The golden finger

In a lawsuit against Clackamas County, Robert J. Ekas, a Happy Valley resident, truly has a golden finger.

In a lawsuit against Clackamas County, Robert J. Ekas, a Happy Valley resident, truly has a golden finger. Ekas, in protest against police brutality, flipped off cops and got paid for it.

That is to say, he settled for $4,000 for unspecified damages after officers repeatedly pulled him over and cited him for traffic charges after he flipped the bird—otherwise known as the finger, the flipper, the one-digit salute.

Offensive speech and/or expression is not illegal, thanks to First Amendment rights, but those in uniform evidently don’t take kindly to it—especially when it is directed at them. It is unlawful for a police officer to arrest or charge someone for his or her opinion, however contentious it may be.

When it comes to free speech, use it or lose it, but don’t abuse it. Speech that may cause actual harm—for example, yelling “fire” in a movie theater—is disorderly conduct by law. To give the finger to men and women in uniform is of the same genus as the fire-and-brimstone orators we so often see on the Park Blocks—legal, but not efficient.

On the other hand, Ekas accepting a tax dollar-based reward seems entirely unethical. Is he sue-happy? Financial gains from civil disobedience somehow seem awry, but I sure wouldn’t complain if I were in his shoes. County offices called it “a business deal,” simply cheaper than spending money on lawyers to defend their case.

Ekas stands by his method. In an interview with The Oregonian, he says, “I did it because I have the right to do it… We all have that right, and we all need to test it. Otherwise, we’ll lose it.”

Ekas came under the national spotlight after being featured on the Colbert Report—perhaps sarcastically—as a “difference maker” and “bravely exercising his free speech.”

Judge for yourself. Methods such as these certainly are coy, but you don’t need a fancy Latin phrase to take a classical concept and truly make a difference.

Around a week ago, I came in contact with the debate team’s attempt at an open debate, allowing two bystanders at a time to stand up on their respective soapboxes and debate hot topics of the day, such as immigration reform or healthcare reform. This is a conductive, efficient and highly respected grassroots arrangement that allows fluid dialogue.

Perhaps if we had more opportunities like these, I would be put out of the job, and if you wanted to hear other peoples’ opinions, you wouldn’t have to read about it; just go to the event. Plus, maybe you wouldn’t have to listen to Preacher Dan’s condemnations unless you so chose to. Logic is much appreciated.

Men like Ekas confirm that the justice system still works to defend speech directed at public employees, but who actually takes their debate out of Internet forums nowadays? I would love to hear more dialogue—not monologues, not mobs of people simultaneously shouting their opinions.

Maybe I should consider how YouTube’s endless number of personal blogs is, in both dialogue and video-essays, far-reaching and exclusively local. Yet, there is nothing like the intensity of a polarizing debate with a well-known friend or a foe, regardless of the subject.

An Expressionist such as Ekas makes the most blazingly offensive comment —the propositions of the most ostracized tomfoolery, the big no-no comments—seem like mere chatter.

So if you have something to say, get organized, join a debate society and write editorials. Or do as Ekas does and bring the message right to the audience. Just don’t be surprised if you get flipped off, too. ?