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Insulting Remarks Now OK in Outspoken Berkeley

July 10, 1992

BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) _ This may come as a surprise to anyone who marched in the streets of Berkeley in the turbulent ’60s - it only became legal this week to let insults fly in public.

″Here of all places 3/8″ declared lawyer Andrew Hoye, who helped get rid of the old ban on public insults. ″After all, Berkeley is the birthplace of the free speech movement.″

Insults stopped being illegal Tuesday when the city council did away with a 1946 law that made ″insulting or annoying remarks″ in public a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. A fight over a parking ticket had led to a ruling that the law was too vague.

Berkeley’s tradition of unfettered public comment includes the 1964 founding of the Free Speech Movement at the University of California when students demanded the right to engage in political activities on campus.

Legendary protester Wavy Gravy wanted to know if the now-defunct law could have been used against police.

″If I’d known about it, I could have used it a couple of times,″ he said. ″I could have probably at one point or another arrested the entire UC- Berkeley police department.″

Hoye and his client, Los Angeles science teacher David Badger, challenged the ordinance after Badger had a run-in with a Berkeley police officer in 1991.

Badger was given a ticket because his car was sitting in a no-parking zone. He remonstrated, saying he should have been warned first. The officer replied that red paint marking the zone was warning enough and ended the conversation with the phrase ″Have a nice day.″

Badger responded, adding an anatomical disparagement. He was then presented with ticket No. 2, this time based on the 1946 law. ″He was shocked,″ Hoye said.

Traffic Commissioner Jon Rantzman ruled the law too vague and also said it was not needed because of a state law that bans ″fighting words,″ something that could i ncite another to anger.

City officials maintain Badger’s outburst still would have been forbidden under the state’s ″fighting words,″ law, but Hoye doubted that the single epithet could meet court tests for incitement.

Neither Hoye nor City Manager Michael Brown expect the legal change will unleash a flood of invective on city streets.

But Brown thinks the state’s worsening economy may up the dialog level.

″Public officials more and more, not only in Berkeley, are going to be used to being insulted,″ he said.

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