After receiving harsh criticism, state senator Stephen Meredith-R withdrew his controversial bill that would allow police to stop people to demand identification if police think they might be about to commit a crime.
The Lexington Herald-Leader reported on the bill last week and it was greeted with concern by civil rights lawyers who say it would be an unconstitutional action that disproportionately affected minorities.
Under SB89, if a police officer suspects someone in a public place is involved in criminal activity or is about to commit a crime, the officer could stop that person, demand his name, home address and age — as well as ask to see his driver’s license, if he has one — and tell him to explain what he is presently doing “to the satisfaction of the officer.”
Anyone who refuses to cooperate with police could be detained for up to two hours. That detention would not be considered an arrest, so the person would not have the right to call an attorney, and no official record would be made of the detention.
In a floor speech Tuesday Meredith said he knew the language in the bill was not perfect but said he did not expect an backlash against him for introducing the bill.
He said he has been subject to “trial by social media. It’s a modern day version of the Salem witch trials.”
Meredith said he has received emails and threatening tweets in which he has been branded a communist, fascist, racist, idiot, scum, un-American and “an old, wrinkled white guy.”
The hatred toward him, said Meredith, “would make the devil cringe.”
The lawmaker said no one can question his love for this country and that the intent of his legislation was to protect law-abiding citizens.
He then said he has decided to drop the bill and went on to decry a lack of civility.
Critics say Meredith’s bill would violate the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable search and seizure and the Fifth Amendment’s protection against self-incrimination.
Police officers already have the right to approach people on the street and ask their names, but it’s established that citizens can refuse to respond, said the ACLU of Kentucky. If police can show reasonable suspicion that someone is carrying a deadly weapon, they can proceed to frisk that person.
They cannot detain people simply for not identifying themselves or explaining their activities to the satisfaction of the officer.
He specifically pointed a finger at Kentucky Sports Radio host Matt Jones and Marc Murphy, a freelance cartoonist for The Courier Journal.
Murphy, a federal defense attorney whose work appears frequently in the Opinion section of The Courier Journal, mocked Meredith in a Jan. 17 tweet, saying the legislator “doesn’t understand the Constitution, or freedom, or America. Or does, and hates them. Or you.” Jones tweeted that the bill was “a terrible idea.”
“My first reaction is to say if you’re man enough to come out from behind your microphone and keyboard, we’ll meet personally about this, and I’ll convey to you how much I love this country, and it will be a lesson you will not forget,” Meredith said.