February 6, 2018
There is, apparently, no truth to the account I was told many years ago that the act of raising one’s middle finger to express one’s anger or displeasure came to us from the Hundred Year’s War, when captured enemy archers would have their middle fingers severed so that they couldn’t shoot their arrows anymore. Those whose middle fingers were still intact would raise them as an expression of triumph.
Whatever its provenance, “the finger” has a long-established (if, admittedly, somewhat uncivil) role in interpersonal discourse. And it is certainly “speech” deserving of First Amendment protection.
Apparently Indiana State Trooper Matt Ames disagrees.
According to this article in the Terra Haute Tribune Star, Trooper Ames was pursuing another motorist when he cut off a car being driven by Mark May. May did what any true-blue American would do under the circumstances: he gave Trooper Ames the finger.
Trooper Ames was not amused. He ticketed May for “provocation” (which is defined, under Indiana law, as “recklessly, knowingly, or intentionally” engaging in conduct “that is likely to provoke a reasonable person to commit battery”). He was convicted after trial, but the conviction was overturned on appeal.
Now May is suing Ames for lost income (he missed two days of work attending to various court hearings).
Ames has had his lesson in constitutional law. If I were he, I’d give May the finger.