When is it OK to boo a public official, and when is it downright rude?
York Mayor Bill deBlasio was booed by officers at a police graduation
According to Time
Magazine, it was the latest protest from officers against the Mayor, who in
recent weeks harshly criticized police, and found to be sympathetic to
(Previously, thousands of cops turned
their backs to the Mayor during a pair of funerals for slain police
Why, some may ask, is this such a big deal, when the United
States so fiercely protects free speech?
On the one hand, police are exercising their democratic right in
demonstrating in a way that shows the Mayor – and the public – the police’s
As private citizens, cops might not have that luxury otherwise, because as
city employees they have to maintain political neutrality, and because their
union could have rules about what a cop is permitted to say publicly.
On the other hand, there are far less unruly ways to express resentment than
I’d think it’d be a brilliant tactical move of peaceful passive resistance
if the officers at the ceremony turned their heads away when the Mayor spoke.
Another stark, and powerful message that the media would have photographed,
is if the anti-Mayor police officers all gave the “thumbs-down” during
That photo, like the one of the officers turning their backs, could have
appeared on the front pages.
When police are symbols of authority, whose position demands respect, it
speaks more to their gravitas if they refrained from booing as if they were at
a hockey game.
In this clip (also
below) authors Caroline Glick and Alan Dershowitz duked it out verbally on
stage at last year’s Jerusalem Post conference, over whether former Israeli
prime minister Ehud Olmert deserved to be zealously booed by the audience.
The tipping point was when Olmert, the keynote at the New
York conference, spoke about “painful concessions to
For Alan Dershowitz, booing was an impolite gesture towards a former head of
state: “you’re part of the problem, not the solution… This was a prime
minister. I think booing ideas and a person isn’t respectful.”
Caroline Glick, on the other hand, saw booing as a way to show disapproval.
“Shame on you! You want to talk to Jimmy Carter who calls Israel
an Apartheid state, but you don’t want to talk to people who support Israel?
You’re a champion of free speech but you won’t let us have free speech? Come
How, precisely, can we alert a speaker when they’ve said something grossly
unappealing, if not through booing?
Of course, one must be judicious: just because there’s a disagreement, or a
difference of opinion, doesn’t merit disturbing a person’s talk.
There are limits to booing.
In the example of prime minister Olmert, the audience booed so loudly, so
raucously, that they drowned out the speaker, practically not allowing him to
continue. It is downright rude to disrupt a speaker.
A good benchmark for this would be to ask oneself: if somebody I highly
respect saw me do this, would they approve?
Booers should make their point swiftly, and then extend the speaker the
courtesy of the podium.
As sure as booers want the right of free speech, a speaker should be
accorded that right too.
If someone feels so adamant that the words said at the dais are so beyond
the pale, they are free to leave the auditorium, out of protest.
Another booing rule is that a person should not be booed just for showing
That is a kind of unwarranted personal attack.
example in Nov. 2014, a photo of President Obama flashed on a screen during
a public service announcement at a Michigan
ball game, prompting some people to boo.
When Obama sat in
the bleachers at a Maryland
basketball game in 2013, he was also received with boos.
My case: it’s fine to boo a television; not fine to boo a head of state in
person -- unless he has said something egregiously offensive, then and there,
to deserve it.
One must respect the office of the president, regardless of political
People somehow believe that if you’re anonymous and joined by a chorus of
boos in a stadium, it’s fine to embarrass the president.
The message is analogous to this “I don’t like you, or what you stand for,
so I’m going to make noises.” This is child-like behaviour on the edge of
Even I, no fan of Obama’s, would not boo at the man for his mere presence.
I cannot imagine if Obama had been strolling through a park, that any one of
those individuals seeing him would boo at him, even if they felt they wanted
to. This is common courtesy.
I’m equally certain that most decent people – even those who disdain the
president – would shake his hand if he extended it. It’s understood to be
polite and respectful. (In fact, in Jewish tradition, not receiving someone’s
hand is considered to be excessively rude to the extent it’s akin to
So why not extend him the courtesy of basic respect in a stadium, if he’s
doing nothing but enjoying a game?
It’s not like he’s Kim Jung-Un or a horrible world leader of that ilk.
It’s one thing to boo a stated idea, if that stated idea is beyond the pale.
It’s another entirely to boo an elected leader, simply because they happen
to be under the same roof.