How much of an asshole can you be in public before getting arrested?

If there was some malicious person (man or woman) who otherwise looked normal, and took to wandering through malls and various public spaces making rude passing comments about people, how long could they prospectively get away with it? Let’s assume you make these comments in an even toned conversational voice, and do not curse at all.

And so on with the horrible, not nice comments.

Assuming (and it’s a big assumption) you are not physically attacked. If you want around randomly bothering and insulting people this way, how long before you would get arrested. Or would you get arrested or just warned? Can you be arrested for expressing your opinion in a non shouting, non-cursing assholish way?

If people are starting to get worked up over it (and yelling back) I could see getting arrested for disturbing the peace, but as long as you are in a public spot, sober, not using any hate speech and not touching anyone (or blocking their path), I don’t think you could get arrested for just being an asshole.

ETA: The dyke comment might get you in trouble.

There is nothing illegal about being an asshole; however, cops can usually find something to arrest you over if they want to.
You would definitely get your ass kicked. Even though you assume there is no physical attack…

I think it would be interesting to see how many people you could get arrested by making them attack you and then having a friend call the cops immediately. You could probably rack up a high number of arrests and bruises.

In a mall you’ll get ejected pretty quick. They have the practical (not necessarily iron clad 100% legal) right to run you off for almost anything.

If you choose not to abide by mall security’s requests to leave they can call the real cops over that, irrespective of your earlier abusive commentary. And if you choose not to abide by the cops’ requests to leave, those quickly turn into cops orders. Which if you choose not to comply will get you arrested. For non-compliance, not for calmly saying nasty things to patrons 30 minutes ago.
Now out in truly public space, likea sidewalk downtown, you don’t have the mall security hanging around trying to keep everything family- and shopper-friendly. So your schtick will probably last a lot longer. But if you happened upon a cop, (s)he might well ask you to knock it off. And if you don’t comply … as above.
In big crowd scenes, like a parade or festival, the cops are very much, and legitimately so, on the lookout for people being a jerk in (crowded) public. Because a jerk often provokes (or initiates) violence. And that can get out of control quickly in a crowd. So you’ll get earful of cease and desist immediately when noticed. As before, you’ll get arrested for non-compliance, not for the original behavior.

If you always stopped your nasty commentary the moment anyone remotely official confronted you, you could probably pull this stunt indefinitely, at least in fresh venues on fresh days.

But as noted by others above, sooner or later somebody would answer you with a fist sammich and then the game would move to a whole new level of fun & excitement.

IANAL, but I imagine that it would take a very long time if you are just talking in a conversational voice. Times Square has plenty of annoying assholes (“Do you guys like FREE COMEDY?!”) and nearly everyone ignores them.

I imagine with the OPs scenario, most people would just completely ignore them like a homeless person. If they persisted, they might get a “FUCK OFF!” If they continued and enough of a scene was created that it attracted the attention of the police, they would probably get checked out and let off with a warning to move along. And if they continued after that, the cops would arrest them.

I can’t see the cops playing along with this trick more than once. After breaking up the first fight, they probably wouldn’t be too amused to get another call from the same person. Also, if you’re being deliberately provocative, and nothing particularly nasty happens, I figure they’d probably just take everyone’s information and send you on your separate ways. I’m pretty sure that the cops aren’t required to make an arrest every time a punch is thrown at some guy who was plainly asking for it.

I’ve been arrested due to such mildly assholish action as flicking a finger in the general direction of police officers driving around a packed city center full of drunk and disorderly people.

Flipping off a cop??! That, to me, seems like a big no-no!

It depends on the set of circumstances; i. e. the location, the person(s) that you’re directing the comment(s) at, and so on. However, regardless of whether or not you curse while making the comments, there’s alway the chance that somebody might get sick and tired of the comments and at least make a nastier retort back, or at worst, haul off and bop you one, depending on the kind of mood they’re in, etc.

What if enough people complained, though? Can it not be disturbing the peace unless people get into shouting matches? If multiple people calmly say to the police, “That guy is bothering us,” that is, disturbing our peace, cannot cops say, “We’ve been getting a lot of complaints about you harassing people” to the offender and potentially arrest him?

Once in a graduate class, social psychology, of some sort, the question came up in a laboratory discussion to the affect 'how many women could a man proposition for sex in a mall before getting arrested. One in the class who had been a bartender and had a lot of experience observing this sort of thing volunteered. He reported back that he had propositioned 29 women for sex and gotten three acceptances, one probably seriously accepting, before mall security ask him to leave. He was not arrested.

It’s legal. http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20091125/ap_on_re_us/us_obscene_gesture_suit_1

From what I’ve read, here’s the legal opinion:

  1. Cops should know that as part of their job, they will be the targets of various forms of verbal abuse, and that they are much more heavily armed than the average citizen. Therefore, they must show more restraint and self-control in situations where they are dealing with an upset (rather than dangerous) citizen.

  2. Certain types of speech are considered a crime, such as terroristic threatening. As gestures are not threats, they should not be considered a crime.

  3. Criticizing the police should never be a crime, and is almost the de-facto purpose of the first amendment.

Okay, I would like to know about verbal abuse toward private citizen, non-police.

I think a lot of this is (obviously) going to be based on how attractive you are and this makes it’s worth as a social science experiment fairly questionable.

Well, what constitutes “abuse”? That’s why I specified the delivery of the offending statement be made in a conversational tone. If a stranger tells you, unprompted, that you’re ugly and offensive in some way how far can they go?

It seems there’s a lot of leeway.

I’m sorry if I left the impression that this was a “science experiment”. It was just something that students decided to do after some conjecture on something about communications between the sexes. Yes, the young man was attractive in appearance a skilled communicator.

I spent a good bit of time researching a similar question a couple of years ago. First, in the US it is going to come down to state and local law. In North Carolina, as far as I could tell, you could verbally harass random strangers essentially as much as you wanted. I’d be happy to learn otherwise, but in looking at the NC General Statutes, I didn’t see anything likely to apply. It doesn’t look like NC has anything against hate speech, either, but that might work in other states.

That’s the point. I’d like to know what level of assholery can be tolerated before it is an arrestable offense? Obviously, going up to a stranger and saying “You’re ugly” is not very nice, but I don’t think anyone would argue that anyone should be arrested for it. What if someone tells ten strangers downtown? Twenty? What if the insults are crueler, but have not yet approached hate speech? Earlier someone said this:

To which my response was a question about whether or not it can be classified as disturbing the peace, even if there is no loud dust up about it. If enough people complained to a cop that Asshole X has been bothering them, can AX be arrested? Then someone went on about how it’s not a crime to say dickish things to cops. Fair enough, but I’m not really concerned about cops.

What I’m getting from this is being douchily is likely not a crime, even if the douchebaggery is epic. I may be asked to leave a private establishment for being an asshole because no one wants me bothering their customers, but it doesn’t seem likely that I’ll go to jail, even if I’m bothering a lot of people a whole lot.