Alabama judge orders black man to apologize for being rude to cop, or go to jail

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to criticize the cops and to use rude language while you're at it, but Alabama Municipal Court Judge Nicholas Bull has another idea: order Reginald Burks to apologize to a cop for telling him to "get his ass out of the way" or go to jail.

Burks says he is prepared to sacrifice his freedom because he believes his First and Eighth Amendment rights have been violated. He contends that his freedom of speech has been imposed upon and that he is facing a cruel and unusual punishment. While Alabama law prohibits using "abusive or obscene language" in public, Burks has not been charged with disorderly conduct and he does not believe the word "ass" is barred under the law.

"It's not a curse word," Burks, 39, said in an interview Monday. "It's in the Bible."

Burks was stopped by a cop early in the morning in Ozark, Alabama, while taking his kids to school, and given a speeding fine based on the officer's personal estimate of his speed. Afterward, the officer stood in front of Burke's car, blocking his way. Burke says he "asked him politely at least twice" to move before saying "get your ass out of the way so I can take my kids to school. That's why y'all underpaid because y'all act dumb."

When he went to pay his speeding fine, which totaled $211.12 after service and court fees were included, Judge Bull, an also-ran in local Republican primary elections, told him that "he must also write an apology to the officer," or face 30 days in jail. Burks has not done so and has gotten a lawyer.

"My client is being punished for a protected speech that has got nothing to do with the traffic situation, which to me is just good ol' boy Alabama," David Harrison, the attorney, said Monday. "And what I mean by that is that this system is not equal for African Americans and white people."

The clever trick appears to be that the apology demand is punishment for the speeding ticket: Burke hasn't been charged with anything related to the words he exchanged with the officer. Another wrinkle: "Burks said finding an attorney is challenging because attorneys he spoke with have cases before Judge Bull."