Cursing up a storm in Middleborough
Wednesday, June 13, 2012
If George Carlin could speak from the other side, he’d probably have some choice words for the good citizens of Middleborough
, Massachusetts. Middleborough town meeting recently voted to levy a $20 fine against people who use profanity in public. One town resident invoked Carlin’s famous routine
about the “seven words you can never say on television,” noting
that between movies and cable TV “it’s kind of hard to define exactly what’s obscene.”
The move by Middleborough actually decriminalized an existing bylaw against swearing
that had not been enforced because it required formal prosecution. The new approach is causing a stir because police might actually begin enforcing the ban since they can now issue a $20 civil citation rather than arrest offending cursers.
Most cities and towns in the Bay State could close budget gaps with by fining people who take cursing to the next level. Middleborough Police Chief Bruce Gates didn’t specify
what types of swearing would merit a fine, but negative reactions to Red Sox losses seems to have been ruled out.
Unfortunately, the well-intentioned effort to take back the center of town from foul-mouth types who detract from a family-friendly atmosphere may create more problems than it solves.There is the not so small matter of First Amendment-protected speech. Though the US Supreme Court has ruled speech must be protected even if offensive, speech that disturbs the peace
by provoking a fight or other disorderly conduct is another matter.
Regulating offensive public behavior that doesn’t stray into criminal territory has always been a tough call. Mostly overlooked in Middleborough furor over cursing were several new fines
aimed at public behavior. People can now be ticketed for disorderly conduct ($20 or $50); throwing snow or ice into the street ($50); and public consumption of alcohol ($50) or marijuana ($300).
Society’s shifting mores on behavior like cursing makes these calls even tougher. Outbursts that would have elicited gasps even a generation ago are just normal parts of speech for some people today.
Middleborough isn’t the first place on the planet to try and get people to cleanup their potty mouths, but it’s letting potential violators off easy. A small town in northern England decided to hand out fines
well north of $100 for one month last summer. Three Australian states, New South Wales, Queensland, and Victoria, have anti-swearing laws on the books.
Last year, Victoria (population 5.6 million) began to levy fines
of about $240 on people who swear in public. Robert Clark, the state’s attorney general, explained that the move would “free up police resources” by enabling police to issue ”on-the-spot” fines. He also offered up
a view that would resonate with Middleborough town meeting members. "It will also enable [police] to more effectively act against the sort of loud-mouthed, obnoxious behavior that can make going out to public places unpleasant for other members of the public,” he said.
During a 2009-2010 trial run of the measure, police in Victoria fined
nearly 800 people for bad language. Some Australian legal experts have raised questions about inconsistent application of the law
, since what one police officer deems offensive may not seem so bad to another.
How police officers in a Massachusetts town of more than 20,000 determine what crosses the line and how much time they spend determining that remains to be seen. But it could be worse. After the third offense in Victoria, a violator is subject to six months imprisonment. --GABRIELLE GURLEYBEACON HILL
Gov. Deval Patrick
hopes to work out a gaming compact
with the Mashpee Wampanoag
by next week. The agreement would then go to the Legislature.MUNICIPAL MATTERSPeabody
is joining the state’s Group Insurance Commission
and expects to save $3 million to $5 million a year, the Salem News reports.
The Fall River City Council
is insisting the School Committee submit its budget with names, positions, and salaries of school employees
included, similar to what is done with the municipal budget.
The New Bedford City Council
is questioning the jump in staffing and salaries in the mayor’s office
while other city departments are treading water.Plainville forms
a local committee to weigh slot machine gambling. NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON
A former aide to ex-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords
wins a special election to replace her, the Arizona Republic reports.New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg
launches a $9 million mayor’s challenge, an initiative to drive innovation in addressing urban issues, the Wall Street Journal reports
.ELECTION 2012 US Rep. John Tierney
takes heat from in a Salem News editorial
for voting to preserve a tax on medical devices.
The Herald’s Joe Battenfeld pushes back
on the Vicki Kennedy debate invitation to the man who replaced her husband.
Massachusetts is leading the nation -- as a recipient of presidential campaign spending, the Globe reports
says in the National Review
that the Catholic
vote is a key to November’s election if the GOP can keep President Obama from getting higher than 52 percent
of the religious demographic.American Spectator
senior editor Quin Hillyer lists his top six picks for Mitt Romney’s running mate
and, despite a fetching photo of New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte
accompanying the piece, doesn’t include her.Keller@Large
says Elizabeth Warren stepped outside her comfort zone
by bringing her message of market reform to the South Shore Chamber of Commerce
The Justice Department sues Florida
over a purge of mostly Hispanic voters from the state’s rolls. State officials say they’ve uncovered 52 non-citizen voters, but the state’s list of allegedly fraudulent voter registrations also targeted, among others, a US-born World War II veteran. BUSINESS/ECONOMYChris Byers
says he plans to announce by the end of the month whether his proposed movie and TV studio facility at Devens
will go forward. The Lowell Sun reports
it’s a go.
Like the swallows to Capistrano....McGrory is back
on the Liberty Mutual
beat. We were almost starting to suffer withdrawal symptoms. The Republican
says that it makes good sense for Massachusetts and Connecticut to jointly promote the “Knowledge Corridor.
The University of Massachusetts School of Law -- Dartmouth
won provisional accreditation from the American Bar Association
, meaning its graduates can sit for the bar exam in all 50 states.
A KIPP charter school student from Lynn
was left alone while other students and teachers went zip lining on a field trip in West Virginia, the Item reports.
Brockton school officials are racing to finalize the budget before the end of the school year
to stave off 100 teacher layoffs as well as save money on unemployment costs.
A steep rise in health care costs
is projected, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The Vatican gives its OK
for Lowell General Hospital to acquire Saints Medical Center, the Sun reportsENERGY/ENVIRONMENT
Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch
offered financial assistance to residents whose homes were damaged by severe flooding earlier this month because he said the city was at fault when workers failed to close the tide gates at Blacks Creek in time
to prevent the flooding.
decides to take its wind turbines offline, it won’t come cheap
.CRIMINAL JUSTICECatherine Greig
, professing love for Whitey Bulger to the end, is sentenced to eight years
, NECN reports
. Greig’s former nephew, whose father was allegedly murdered by Bulger, was among the victims speaking at the sentencing
A judge rules the brother-in-law of US Rep. John Tierney
must forfeit $7.7 million in proceeds from an illegal gambling ring, the Salem News reports
.Rudy Giuliani offers a tribute
in City Journal
to the late James Q. Wilson
and the contribution of his “broken windows” theory to the pronounced drop in crime in New York. The only problem: As UCLA criminologist Mark Kleiman
outlines in this video conversation
with CommonWealth’s Michael Jonas,
there is actually very little evidence for a direct link between application of the broken windows model and a decrease in serious crime.
Two websites are posting the names of men who allegedly abused or failed to pay prostitutes,
but there are some indications the information is phony, the Eagle-Tribune reports.
Two Lowell police officers
say they are being ostracized by their union for helping to implement a GPS system that will be used to track cruisers and other police vehicles, the Sun reports.MEDIA
A group of Pembroke residents angered by the decision to shut down the town’s public access television studio
and merge with Plymouth’s nonprofit public access has sent a complaint to the attorney general asking her to investigate.
Whew! Boston didn’t make the list
of 15 most bedbug-infested cities.