Free speech cases often require defending obnoxious speech or people. Dillon Shane Webb, 23, appears to be both. Webb is one of those people who think that it is funny to say obscene things and does not care at all about how his speech is impacting children or others. For that reason, Webb thought it was really, really funny to have a window sticker reading “I eat ass.” When he was asked to take down or change the offensive sticker, he refused and was arrested for criminal obscenity. The problem is that obscenity often depends who defines what is obscene. For free speech advocates, it is a standard that invites subjectivity and ambiguity in an area that depends bright line rules. That does not mean however that we cannot and should not denounce Webb for his offensive and careless speech.
On Sunday at 5:50 pm, a deputy sheriff saw the sticker on Webb’s brown Chevrolet truck and asked Webb about the offensive language and to consider how “a parent of a small child would explain the meaning of the words,” to which Webb replied that it would be “up to the parent.”
So the deputy was able to confirm that Webb is an absolute jerk. However, he then proceeded to write up a summons under Florida Statute 847.011:
Florida Statute 847.011, which states in pertinent part:
“(2) Except as provided in paragraph (1)(c), a person who knowingly has in his or her possession, custody, or control any obscene book, magazine, periodical, pamphlet, newspaper, comic book, story paper, written or printed story or article, writing, paper, card, picture, drawing, photograph, motion picture film, film, any sticker, decal, emblem or other device attached to a motor vehicle containing obscene descriptions, photographs, or depictions, any figure, image, phonograph record, or wire or tape or other recording, or any written, printed, or recorded matter of any such character which may or may not require mechanical or other means to be transmuted into auditory, visual, or sensory representations of such character, or any article or instrument for obscene use, or purporting to be for obscene use or purpose, without intent to sell, lend, give away, distribute, transmit, show, transmute, or advertise the same, commits a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083. A person who, after having been convicted of violating this subsection, thereafter violates any of its provisions commits a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083. In any prosecution for such possession, it is not necessary to allege or prove the absence of such intent.”
Florida law defines “obscene” according to the Supreme Court’s controversial rulings applying “contemporary community standards” — a standard that has always been opposed by free speech advocates as imposing the values of the majority on their neighbors. It also must “appeal to the prurient interest” which involves acts that are reveal; a shameful or morbid interest in sex, nudity, or excretion. Finally, it must lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.
Notably, the deputy suggests that Webb simply remove one “s” in “ass” to make it less immediately offensive though that would read “I eat as” — which would leave many wondering “you eat as what?”
As will come as no surprise to people on this blog, I favor the free speech position against such laws. However, I also find Webb to be a thoroughly crude and inconsiderable person. The first amendment however is not needed to protect popular people or popular speech.
By the way, the deputy also charged Webb with resisting an official without violence — another crime that civil libertarians have objected to as vague and often subjective. There is no indication of how Wedd resisted beyond contesting the view of the officer.
What do you think should happen?