Gold Finger

Published January 25, 2013

An upstate New York man “gave the finger” to a cop using a radar gun and now may get paid for it.

After the incident, the police officer followed the man, a passenger in a car driven by his wife, to their destination and arrested him. Here’s where the stories diverge. The cop said he called for backup police and said he followed the man because he thought the extended middle finger was a sign of distress – that a domestic dispute was perhaps underway. He says the man then called him vulgar names. The man says he muttered, “I feel like an ass,” after which he was arrested.

Evidently, charges were never filed against the man, who then sued the police for damages for civil rights violations. Judgment was entered against the complainant. Recently, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the case because the police had no grounds for a traffic stop, finding the police officer was unreasonable in interpreting the hand signal as a distress call.

The court called it “a gesture of insult known for centuries” and added in a footnote: “Possibly the first recorded use of the gesture in the United States occurred in 1886 when a joint baseball team photograph of the Boston Beaneaters and the New York Giants showed a Boston pitcher giving the finger to the Giants. See Ira P. Robbins, Digitus Impudicus: The Middle Finger and the Law, 41 U.C. Davis L. Rev. 1403, 1415 (2008).”

Source: Benjamin Weiser, “Middle Finger Flashed in ’06 Lives On in Suit,” New York Times, January 3, 2013 h/t Jonathan Turley; Schwartz v. Insogna, 2013 U.S. App. LEXIS 186 (2d Cir. 2012)