Being rude is not illegal, even if some of us sometimes wish it were. Being rude to cops, including cursing them out may be ill-advised, but it is protected speech.Yet that doesn’t mean you won’t end up in bracelets anyway.

As the Marshall Project reports, many citizens are illegally arrested for cursing at cop, when in fact, their speech is protected. A police officer from the McKinney, TX police department was captured on the now infamous pool party video throwing a 15-year-old girl to the ground after he accused her of mouthing off. He was later fired for his actions.

Last week, the Washington Supreme Court threw out an obstruction case against a man who cursed at cops after they were called to investigate a disturbance at his home in 2011. In December, a Georgia woman was awarded a $100,000 settlement after cops arrested her in 2012 and placed her in solitary confinement for cursing at them and flipping the officers the bird.

Threatening speech is a different matter. If someone threatens violence against a cop (“I’ll fuck you up!”) or challenges a law enforcement officer to a fight, those are “fighting words.” Whether or not they are meant seriously, fighting words can lead to a legal arrest. Other than that, cursing at cops in frustration after being stopped or dealing with an unpleasant police situation should not get you locked up.

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