After seeing “yet another African American stopped for doing nothing other than being outside while black,” Atlanta-area resident Amy Barnes says, she yelled profanities at police officers — who then arrested her. That was two years ago. Today, Cobb County agreed to pay Barnes $100,000.
The story comes to us from member station WABE, where Lisa George reports that Barnes happened upon the scene as she rode her bike on Austell Road in the spring of 2012. That’s when she saw two Cobb County Police Department officers questioning a man outside a convenience store.
“We can’t say on the radio what she said to them,” George reports, “but she cursed at the officers and gave them the finger. They arrested and jailed her and kept her in solitary confinement overnight.”
Not satisfied after the charges against her were dismissed in 2013, Barnes filed a lawsuit, saying the Cobb County Police Department officers had violated her constitutional rights.
This week, Cobb County agreed to pay Barnes to end the lawsuit.
“It’s a shot across the bow,” Barnes tells George. “And it basically sent a message across this whole nation that free speech shall remain free or somebody’s going to keep paying.”
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution describes Barnes as a political activist who was arrested for shouting things such as “Cobb police suck” and “F— the police.”
The newspaper adds that according to Barnes’ attorney, “The officers argued that it was a bad neighborhood and you shouldn’t disrespect the police because it could create issues.”
As for the isolation after her arrest, WABE’s George says the police claimed it was for Barnes’ own protection, because she has impaired hearing.
Barnes’ attorney, Cynthia Counts, says the case should be a reminder of all Americans’ right to free speech.
“I think that it’s going to send a message that people have rights, and some people are going to disagree,” Counts tells George. “But it’s a bedrock principal of the First Amendment that caustic speech, offensive speech is certainly protected.”
Barnes says she plans to use some of the settlement money to attend law school.