It’s been a long day at work. And you just want to get back to your home to relax. You are driving in your car, but unfortunately, you see blue and red flashing lights in your rearview mirror. It’s the cops, and they tell you to pull over because you are over the speed limit. Frustrated, you suddenly flip the finger to the officer. And if so, would it be illegal to show them the middle finger?
The Culture of the Middle Finger
If you’ve been living under a rock your whole life, the finger is what most Western cultures consider a rude hand gesture. It’s equivalent to someone saying “fuck you” to another. You perform it by showing the back of your hand and raising your middle finger.
Many other cultures consider the finger disrespectful, but sometimes people use the gesture playfully and humorously.
The finger dates back to Ancient Greece and Rome, representing the penis. It gained popularity in the early 1800s to show disrespect that even artists, musicians, actors, and politicians started using it.
Not every culture uses the finger to show disrespect to someone. The “two-fingered salute” or the V sign is equivalent to the finger in Ireland, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Australia. To perform this gesture, show the back of your hand, but instead of raising just your middle finger, you also raise your index finger. It looks similar to the Victory sign. So, if you visit these countries, don’t confuse the two or you who might offend someone.
In French, Spanish, and Portuguese-speaking countries like France, Brazil, Spain, and Portugal, raising your fist while slapping the biceps of that arm is the same as flipping off someone. It has many names depending on the country. But in English, it’s called the Iberian slap.
The fig sign is equivalent to the finger in Slavic and Turkish regions and is performed by curling your hand and fingers and thrusting your thumb between your middle and index finger. Turkey, China, and Indonesia also use this gesture for the same purpose.
What does the Law say About the Middle Finger?
Most countries that value free speech and freedom of expression will not persecute you for giving the finger to an officer. That is if you do not cross the line and incite violence.
A federal appellate court decision made it very clear in the US. John Swartz, along with his wife, was driving in upstate New York in 2016 when he gave the finger to a police officer who used a radar detector. Richard Insogna, the officer, followed them and pulled them over in a traffic stop. One thing led to another, making Insogna call for backup and arrest Swartz for disorderly conduct when he said, “I feel like an ass.”
The couple did not take what happened lightly, filing a case that made it to the US Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, where the court found no legitimate reason for the arrest because of the gesture.
The officer pleaded that he thought the gesture was a signal to him and was concerned for the safety of Swartz’s wife. But the court did not buy any of it.
A similar situation happened in 2017 when a Detroit officer pulled a Michigan woman for speeding. The officer gave the woman a ticket for a lesser violation. But after the stop, the woman gave the officer the finger, prompting the officer to pull her over again and giving her a much more serious speeding ticket. The woman then filed a case and won by a 3-0 decision.
But just because you can doesn’t mean you should. For example, a man got a fine in Queensland, Australia, for disrespecting the police. The police were allegedly walking along Camooweal Street when a man suddenly gave them the finger. They saw him give the gesture and approached him to talk. But the man kept being rude and continued to swear. So, the police issued an infringement notice for ‘public nuisance’ since Queensland has laws against profanity in public.
Germany is also a place you need to be careful of. Even though people hardly go to jail there because of insults or the middle finger (“stinky finger” as the Germans would call it”), there are some cases that go to court with people ending up with fines.
So, the key takeaway is to try and research the place you live on what laws they have against profanity. You don’t want to go to jail because of something trivial.
If You Can Avoid Giving the Finger, You Probably Should
If your country allows you to give the finger to a cop, best to avoid it still. As you have read the cases above, you can’t stop the cops from making up reasons to confront you. You’d just be calling attention to yourself if you gave the finger to police officers.
Even if you have the right, a wrongful arrest is a long process and not fun. (But, keep in mind that if it does happen, find a lawyer as fast as possible) You’d be surprised how creative arresting officers can be, costing you time and money in the long run.
How Should You Act If The Cops Treat You Unfairly?
You’d not be the first individual the cops treated unfairly. There are stories where some officers have gone a bit too far. While it’s unpleasant, you must keep your frustrations to yourself.
Even if the officer unfairly treats you, staying calm and rational will help you discuss and talk formally to the officer. Nothing good will happen if you keep swearing and giving the officer the finger. State your case in a conversational tone. And who knows, you could walk off scot-free.
While the legalities of giving the finger to an officer can vary in different places, it would be best to avoid it. So you don’t end up in trouble. Yes, cops can sometimes be frustrating, but keep your feelings in check. And try to talk to the officer without insulting them. The last thing you want is to go to court because of your rude finger.
About The Author: Michael is an aspiring lawyer who likes to spend his free time researching different topics of law, especially about what is legal and what is not. He enjoys reading articles, watching documentaries, and attending lectures to become more informed about the law. He hopes that one day he will be able to use this knowledge to help people in need. Michael also has a passion for writing which led him to pursue journalism as his minor in college.
Through his studies, he has learned how to write professionally with clarity and precision. He is currently writing a novel about the life of a young lawyer who fights for justice in a world that is filled with corruption. Michael hopes to use his skills in writing and researching to pursue a career as an attorney one day. In addition, he also volunteers at legal aid clinics to gain more experience. From this volunteering experience, he has been able to help people better understand their rights and the legal system.
Michael is a dedicated individual with a passion for law and writing, and these qualities make him an excellent candidate for any legal field. He is eager to use his skillset to prove himself as a lawyer in order to contribute in making the world a better place.