Twenty-two-year-old Connecticut resident Willian Barboza was driving through the Catskills town of Liberty, New York last year when he was pulled over and ticketed for speeding. Barboza got home, plead guilty through the mail, and sent his ticket in–but not before eloquently expressing his dissatisfaction, scratching “Liberty” from the ticket, replacing it with “Tyranny,” and offering an awesomely poetic assessment of the area: “fuck your shitty town bitches.” The lack of comma just makes it all the more potent.
The town of Liberty didn’t find Barboza’s sentiments so amusing, rejecting his payment, and ordering him to come to court. When Barboza got there, he was berated by a judge, handcuffed to a bench, and arrested for aggravated harassment.
Now, the NYCLU is suing the town, seeking recourse for Barboza and attempting to strike New York’s aggravated harassment law from the books, “once and for all,” according to NYCLU Staff Attorney Mariko Hirose. As the NYCLU points out, a federal court called the law “utterly repugnant to the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and also unconstitutional for vagueness” in 1997, but it is still enforced.
“Not liking someone’s speech isn’t a reason to arrest them,” said Stephen Bergstein, the lead attorney on the case. “You cannot be arrested and prosecuted for writing a note of displeasure on a traffic ticket. As long as you are not threatening anyone, public officials have to put up with offensive language.”
Charges against Barboza were eventually dropped.