A Nice Gesture by Jeroen Arendsen

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Tag: law

Did Phuprate sign ‘I am deaf’ or ‘fuck off’?

There is a crazy story evolving about a deaf man, by the name of Shaun Phuprate, who landed in jail for gesturing ‘fuck you’ at the police. But did he really?

Sunderland Echo: Signing row lands deaf man in court. “A DEAF man arrested after police mistook sign language for an obscene gesture has lost his court battle for compensation. Shaun Phuprate, of Town End Farm, was handcuffed and hauled before magistrates for making a two-finger salute at officers in Sunderland. The now 26-year-old insisted he was making the sign for “I am deaf” and had not been rude.” There is also a BSL video translation from SignPost 

Palm back v-signPalm back v-sign

The ‘palm-back v-sign’ (source Morris, 1979; the finger)

The policemen believed they saw a ‘Palm-back v-sign’, which is a cockney variant of giving the finger. As such it constituted an insult and, together with other misconduct, enough to land Phuprate (and his brother) in jail for the night. Initially when the case came before court in 2002 the defense claimed Phuprate was merely signing ‘I am Deaf’, which the judge accepted.

the BSL sign for “I am deaf�?

Phuprate signing (BSL) ‘Iam deaf’ ? (source)

Afterwards, the brothers Phuprate launched a wrongful arrest claim, but recently jurors at Newcastle County Court found it was “more probable than not” officers believed Shaun had made an obscene hand gesture (and mouthed an insult and was drunk). Therefore the arrest was not wrongful. Nice to see how the policemen’s perception of insults is what matters in court. I am quite convinced that officers are human beings like most others, and I am also quite convinced that human beings can be oversensitive to insulting gestures. But I think we may well have another case of someone trying to pretend his insulting gesture was an innocent movement. The two gestures seem too far apart for a mix-up in the first place.

Strangely enough, in the initial hearing it was also stated that “[Phuprate] cannot possibly have understood any caution that was given or the reasons for his arrest”. Just because he was deaf he cannot understand anything? And elsewhere it says that Shaun could not have sworn since he was born deaf and ‘without speech’. As if oral education of the deaf never existed?

In this case I believe the cops can probably be trusted to have made the proper decisions about what they saw or chose to see. But unless you were there, we will never know what Phuprate really did. Ps. It appears that UK courts are more sensitive to people insulting cops than Dutch courts.

Dutch Law on Insulting Cops

In the Netherlands we are now the proud owners of some new bits of legislation regarding giving the finger and saying “fuck you” (yes, the English version) to the police. The main point of both rulings is that although the finger and saying “fuck you” are impolite and “not very nice” they are only “insulting” in the legal sense if circumstances make it so.

From the clarification of the verdict: …the court had to judge whether this defendant had “willfully inflicted damage on the policeman’s honour and good name”. For such is the legal description of “insult”…. 

In the “fuck you”-case in question the circumstances were such that the defendant was prevented from reassuring his upset brother by a policeman. He felt powerless and said “fuck you” once to the cop, not using any other verbal insults. Personally I feel that indeed in this case the police seems to have made too big a deal of it. There is no clarification given by the court on the ruling about the finger slipping, other than what appeared in the news.

.. During the announcement of the verdict [the judge] indicated that giving the finger to a policeman is improper, but not insulting… 

The justice department is however appealing against the ruling that many Dutch people were surprised about (indicating in my opinion that most people will feel that the finger is an insult and should not be given to policeman).

The justice officer, Rogier Raat commented: “Justice [dept] does not agree with this ruling and will appeal. In my opinion the gesture that means “fuck you” is definitely insulting for policemen. […] In this case the defendant even looked the officer straight in his eyes when he raised his middle finger.” 

London Police Finger

Fuck you too, mate! (source)

And Police Chief Piet Deelman calls the ruling ‘absurd’. “This ruling deviates from other rulings in the country. Giving a policeman the finger is certainly not intended as a kind greeting. It also damages the respect given to officers and the authority we wish to project unto the street. Officers that book these offences as insults are really insulted by them. That is why we will continue to book anyone who feel they must insult an officer in this way. We encourage the Justice department in their appeal.” 

Interestingly, while the Dutch are evaluating whether the finger consitutes a legal “insult”, the good people of Pennsylvania evaluated whether the same finger constituted a legal “obscenity” or whether it should fall under the right to free speech. In both cases specific circumstances (in the Pennsylvanian case ‘a clearly sexual context’) were found necessary to verify an offense.

Whore giving finger

Insult, obscenity, neither or both?

The difference in morality between the Netherlands and Pennsylvania is striking. Do we care less about sexually charged behavior? Or do Pennsylvanians care less about respect? One day, I will have to run a study on these important matters.

Update 22 feb ’07: A Dutch man got a 250 euro fine for calling a policeman a ‘strontzak’ (english: ‘[bag] full of shit’)

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