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Appeals Court Finds in This Case, the N-Word Isn't a Fighting Word. Clearly, the Court Is Buggin'


Illustration for article titled Appeals Court Finds in This Case, the N-Word Isn't a Fighting Word. Clearly, the Court Is Buggin'
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A retired U.S. Air Force officer, who is white, recently had his conviction overturned by a federal appeals court that found that the his use of the word “nigger” was protected by the First Amendment.

According to the Associated Press, Jules Bartow was arrested and didn’t have his ass kicked after he used the hardest of “R” words while speaking to a Black store clerk and a Black customer.

Bartow was reportedly shopping for boots—no word on whether or not these were cowboy boots—at the Quantico Marine Corps Exchange in November 2018. Prosecutors and witnesses during the trial noted that while shopping, Bartow posed all these rhetorical questions, including asking the customer while referring to the store clerk, “If I called her a nigger would she still say good morning?”

Bartow was convicted of violating Virginia’s abusive language law, AP reports.

On Tuesday, Bartow saw that conviction overturned by a “three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The court found that the First Amendment permits criminalization of abusive language, but only if the government proves the language had a direct tendency to cause immediate acts of violence by the person to whom it was addressed.”

“The ugly racial epithet used by Bartow undoubtedly constituted extremely ‘abusive language.’ But because the Government failed to prove (or even to offer evidence) that Bartow’s use of this highly offensive slur tended to cause immediate acts of violence by anyone, his conviction cannot stand,” Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote in the unanimous ruling.

Apparently you can throw “nigger” around willy-nilly as long as you aren’t menacing with it.


“Good day, nigger.”

“That’s a fine Chevrolet you’re driving, nigger.”

“Hey, nigger. Did you eat all the potato salad?”

The court pointed out that Bartow was saying all kinds of crazy shit that day after he was greeted by the store clerk, who asked if she could help him, to which he reportedly raised his voice and asked: “If I had indigestion, diarrhea, or a headache, would you still address me as good morning?”

My answer is, yes, she probably would because how the fuck would she know that you had “indigestion, diarrhea, or a headache”? Now if she was struggling with those ailments herself, then no, she probably wouldn’t have been so nice.

You stupid ass, nigger.

Bartow being loud and indignant caused quite the stir, including causing one Black man dressed in civilian clothes to try to explain to Bartow that the people at the store, which is on a military installation, greeted him kindly because they were trying to be nice. Bartow, who was trying on boots–still unclear as to whether these were Harley Davidson boots–then said: “If I called her a nigger, would she still say good morning?”

Nah, nigga.

From AP:

A store security officer testified that when she got to the area, she observed a heated conversation between Bartow and a white lieutenant colonel who was “very animated” and pointed his finger at Bartow. The officer said she escorted Bartow out of the store and he was arrested by base security officers.

Bartow pleaded not guilty and the case went to trial before a magistrate judge. The judge concluded that Bartow “directed (the slur) at an African American man who was talking to him.” The judge found Bartow guilty and fined him $500, the maximum penalty under the Virginia law.

The 4th Circuit Court overturned the conviction, noting the First Amendment.

Also from AP:

The 4th Circuit noted that the U.S. Supreme Court has held that there are a few types of narrowly defined speech that can be restricted consistent with the First Amendment, including “fighting words.” But the Supreme Court has repeatedly stated that whether speech constitutes ‘fighting words’ must be analyzed on a case-by-case basis and courts must consider the circumstances surrounding such expression, the 4th Circuit wrote.

“Over the decades, the Court has repeatedly determined that the First Amendment places considerable limits on the criminalization of speech. We must abide those limits, even if that means, as it does here, that shameful speech escapes criminal sanction,” the 4th Circuit said in its ruling.

“Most of us agree that what was said in the store was deeply offensive and disgraceful,” Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University told AP, “but the First Amendment is designed to protect unpopular speech.

“It often means that as free speech advocates, we are forced to defend the speech of people who engage in obnoxious and deeply upsetting language.”

I would like to refer everyone to the Book of Niggalations, chapter Knucketh If You Bucketh 13:4, which states:

So if a nigga come and run his mouth just like ho

Punch ‘em dead up in his nose

And stomp his ass down to the flo’


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