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Zoey_ JD
Zoey_ JD, JustAnswer Criminal Law Mentor
Category: Criminal Law
Satisfied Customers: 16096
Experience:  Admitted to NYS Criminal defense bar in 1989. Extensive arraignment, hearing, trial experience.
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I was just called a "faggot" to my face by a young man on the

Customer Question

I was just called a "faggot" to my face by a young man on the street in New York City. It was spoken with hostility, but not accompanied by other verbal threats. I hailed a nearby police officer who told me that it was protected by freedom of speech. After researching "fighting words" and hate crimes, the only potential violation I could find in the NY penal code is 240.26(3), which, if applicable, is pretty weak. What is the legality of calling someone a "faggot" in NYC?
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Criminal Law
Expert:  Dave Kennett replied 1 year ago.
Dear JACUSTOMER - Name calling itself is not illegal and is protected by the First Amendment regardless of how ugly or despicable it may be. If someone accuses you of something you didn't do you can sue for slander or libel but just an offhanded remark on the street would not rise to the level of slander. It would be a judgment call to say something was "fighting words" or likely to cause a riot so theoretically a cop could make an arrest if he or she thought that what was said was likely to incite a riot or some other altercation. Fro a practical standpoint the police could not possibly arrest everyone who made a racial or sexual slur on the street. We simply don't have enough jails. So in your case the cop made a judgment that it was an offhanded remark and did not rise to the level of a hate crime or inciting a riot. Sometimes the best way to handle these situation is to ignore rude people since what they want is to upset you or get under your skin. If you turn the other cheek and ignore them they will usually fade into oblivion.
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Relist: Answer quality.
Please have a NY lawyer answer this question since it deals with NY penal code. Justanswer originally said my question would be answered by the NY lawyer "FranL" which is why I agreed to the terms. Thanks, Max
Customer: replied 1 year ago.

Slander is not relevant here as you point out, so why bring it up? You confuse "fighting words" with "incitement to riot." Your point about limited prison space is irrelevant. The comment in question wasn't simply a "sexual slur," it was directed to my face and could constitute harassment. Speaking of which, have you no comment on the applicability of NY penal code 240.26(3)?

Expert:  Zoey_ JD replied 1 year ago.

Hello, Jacustomer,

Thanks for requesting me. A moderator just informed me that you were looking for me.

That said, while I am among the last people on earth to agree with a police officer as to a definition of a crime, this time, I agree that without anything more, it is protected speech. The previous expert was also correct as was the lawyer who seconded him.

Does it fit the definition of harassment as defined in PL 240.26? Well -- it's pretty weak as you acknowledge for yourself. While it certainly may have annoyed or alarmed you and I assume had no legitimate purpose although you gave no context for the word when you posted your question, it just doesn't go far enough. It's one word, one time rather than a course of conduct or a repeated act of annoyance as specified in the statute.

You found that out when you reached out to a police officer, and he told you he'd do nothing about it because it was protected speech. The only thing you could do would be to go to the DA's Office and report the offense there, and see if they would consider it harassment. But unless there is more to this than you have said, saying something stupid and ignorant is just not a criminal offense.


Zoey_ JD, JustAnswer Criminal Law Mentor
Category: Criminal Law
Satisfied Customers: 16096
Experience: Admitted to NYS Criminal defense bar in 1989. Extensive arraignment, hearing, trial experience.
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