Jail time for hurting someone’s feelings?
On November 28 a municipal judge in Canton, Ohio, sentenced William Bailey to 30 days in jail after Bailey pleaded no contest to criminal charges of disorderly conduct and aggravated menacing. According to a story on Fox News, “Bailey was caught on cell phone video at a school bus stop in October making fun of how [a] ten-year-old disabled girl walks.”
There were no allegations of physical or even verbal assault — the jail time is just for making fun of how she walks.
The girl, Hope Holcomb, suffers from cerebral palsy and claims she was regularly teased in this way by Bailey and his son. Apparently the families have been feuding for years.
Bailey said he was reacting to his son’s being teased, reported Trace Gallagher for Fox News. Hope’s family didn’t believe this, however, and the girl’s grandmother went down to the bus stop one afternoon to get video. The family then took the video to the police.
Kelly and Gallagher need to get a grip here. No one was injured; no one was even threatened. No property was damaged. Was there really a need to involve the police and a criminal court in this family feud? Mean people are not automatically criminals.
It’s fair to ask what possible ramifications may ensue from this precedent. For example, if criminal charges like “disorderly conduct” and “aggravated menacing” — sufficiently vague already — can now be stretched to include an act of insulting insensitivity, imagine the recourse available to a restaurateur who gets a bad review, a severely heckled comedian, or even a politician offended by protesters. Remember that a man has now been sent to jail just for hurting someone’s feelings.
Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).