Should saying the F-word at Sam's Club be a crime?
Russell Blackburn doesn't think so. Back in January, the 59-year-old Blackburn was checking out at an Aurora Sam's Club. He paid for his dog food, cheese, milk and other items and then stood at the end of a long line of people waiting for yet another Sam's employee to check his receipt against the groceries in his cart. A diabetic, Blackburn realized that his blood sugar level was dropping; he was shaking and his vision was wonky. He says he knew that if he didn't get to the candy stashed in his car, he'd probably collapse. "Fuck it," he said, and he steered his cart toward the front of the line.
An off-duty Aurora police officer who was working security for Sam's Club shouted at Blackburn to get back in line. According to the police report, Blackburn replied, "This is fucking ridiculous. I am not standing in fucking line again."
Blackburn doesn't remember saying that; he says he only remembers saying the F-word once -- and that it wasn't directed at anybody in particular. "When I said it, I was looking straight ahead," he says. The police report also says that a witness reported that he felt like Blackburn "was going to fight him because of the way he was acting."
But Blackburn says he didn't interact with anyone but the off-duty officer. When the officer asked for his ID, Blackburn says he repeatedly asked if he was being arrested or detained. The officer refused to answer, Blackburn says, so he asked for his name and to see his badge. "He said, 'I don't have to give that to you,'" recalls Blackburn, a computer programmer by trade. "And I said, 'I think you do.'"
When Blackburn finally reached for his ID, he says the officer grabbed his wrist and twisted his arm. "I pointed with my other hand to the cop and said, 'Isn't this a little over the top? Is this really necessary?'" Blackburn says.
That's when the officer said he was going to teach him a lesson, Blackburn recalls. The officer got on his police radio, Blackburn says, and called for another Aurora cop to bring him a ticket book. When the book arrived ten or fifteen minutes later, the officer wrote Blackburn a ticket for violating the city ordinance that prohibits disorderly conduct. Specifically, Blackburn was cited for "using abusive language or threats to any person present which creates a clear and present danger of violence."
Continue for more on Blackburn's upcoming trial. Once he had the ticket in his hand, Blackburn recalls asking the officer, "Too much testosterone?" The officer's report says that Blackburn called him "a real asshole."
Either way, Blackburn doesn't think his language created any "danger of violence." Instead, he believes the cop was annoyed by his questions. "When I asked if I was being arrested, it pissed him off and that's why he said, 'I'm going to give you a ticket,' because I wasn't fully subservient to him," Blackburn says.
In late June, Blackburn's attorney filed a motion (on view below) to dismiss Blackburn's ticket for lack of evidence. In it, he cited previous cases, including a case where a man said, "Fuck you," to a police officer who asked for his ID. The court found that the man's F-bomb was allowed under the First Amendment.
"If the language used in (that case) is protected by the First Amendment, then surely the language allegedly used by Mr. Blackburn is likewise protected," the motion says.
Recently, Blackburn called KHOW-AM 630 radio host Tom Martino and told his story on the air. An attorney called in and suggested Blackburn get hold of a legendary Colorado document known as the "F-motion." It was written in 2003 by Larimer County public defender Eric Vanatta, who was representing a student charged with cussing out his principal. In the motion (on view below), Vanatta recounts the history of the word "fuck" and concludes that it's widely used in movies, music and comedy.
"Some movies such as Scarface, Porky's and Goodfellas are known for the extensive use of the family of Fuck words (Fuck, Fucking, Fucker, Fuckface, Fucked, Absofuckinglutely etc.)," Vanatta wrote. "Pulp Fiction was nominated for seven Academy Awards and took home the Oscar for best screenplay with its zealous and gratuitous use of Fuck phrases.
"A search of Internet web sites suggests Fuck is a more commonly used word than mom, baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet," Vanatta continued.
"Fuck possess incredible versatility," he noted. "It can be a noun (you fuck), a verb (everything Billy touches, he fucks up), an adjective (I'm really fucking broke), an adverb (I've been fucking drinking too much), an exclamation (holy fuck, Batman!) or question (what the fuck?). This versatility...may explain why Fuck can be used in almost any sentence at any time no matter what the circumstances and why the word has become almost commonplace in United States culture and society.
"Fuck is an entirely legal word that may be uttered in public places so long as the manner in which it is uttered will not cause a violent reaction," Vanatta concluded.
Blackburn agrees with the F-motion and wishes his attorney had submitted something similar. But even without it, he says he's hopeful that he'll win the case. Blackburn is scheduled to stand trial before a jury in Aurora on July 15.
Continue to read Blackburn's motion to dismiss, as well as the F-motion.
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