“Due to (the woman) destroying property that did not belong to her in a manner to attempt to intimidate law enforcement, I placed her under arrest,” the officer said in the affidavit, also obtained by the Deseret News. “Due to the demeanor displayed by (the woman) in attempts to intimidate law enforcement while destroying a pro law enforcement sign, the allegations are being treated as a hate crime enhanced allegation.”
The Civil Rights Act of 1968 was the first to establish as a federal crime attacking or threatening people on the basis of “race, color, religion or national origin.” President Barack Obama added to the list disability, gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation in 2009. State legislators have taken it upon themselves to add police protections to their hate crime statutes.
Pennsylvania didn’t even include police officers as a protected group in its hate crime statute when Robbie Sanderson, a 52-year-old Black North Carolina resident, was arrested and charged with a hate crime for accusing police of being members of hate groups. Mary Catherine Roper, deputy legal director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, reviewed affidavits stemming from four hate crime arrests in 2016, and in three of the four cases, the suspects used racial slurs to address officers of color attempting to arrest the suspects. In Sanderson’s case, he was accused of calling police “Nazis,” “skinheads” and “Gestapo.” Roper told The Appeal the cases are not what the hate crime statute was intended for. “This is criminalizing pure speech and that violates the First Amendment,” the attorney said.
“These people said awful things to the police, but they all were handcuffed and far from threatening,” Robbie added in an ACLU article. “We expect our police to be thick-skinned because their job is, by definition, dealing with people at their worst. That’s not an original thought—the courts have said so for years.”
Washington Post writer Rob Kuznia posed the question of who should be protected under hate crime law in an article on Sept. 10, 2019. “In California, a man is accused of a series of unprovoked attacks on homeless people. In Arizona, a Democratic congressman’s aide breaks the ankle of a Republican wearing a Make America Great Again hat. In Connecticut, a police officer has a brick thrown through his cruiser’s window; authorities say the suspect talked about hating cops,” Kuznia wrote. “All are acts of violence, but are they hate crimes?” Even in 2019, before the demanded reckoning over police brutality in the aftermath of George Floyd‘s murder by a Minneapolis cop, the answer in an expanding number of states was yes.
“Seven states and the District now consider homeless individuals a protected group, for example. Five states do the same for police; at least four include political affiliation or political beliefs,” Kuznia wrote. Although Georgia protesters fought inclusion of police in a hate crime act that took effect last July, GOP legislators in the state followed up with separate legislation that went into effect in January and does in fact grant police the protection. Hidden in legislation appearing to simply rename an office in the state Department of Public Safety, is language that a “person commits the offense of bias motivated intimidation when such person maliciously and with the specific intent to intimidate, harass, or terrorize another person because of that person’s actual or perceived employment as a first responder(…)”
Utah’s law goes far beyond Georgia’s, identifying 18 protected groups, including police, in its hate crime statute enacted in May 2019. The state’s hate crime law “enacts provisions relating to sentencing for a criminal offense committed against a victim who is selected because of certain personal attributes.” Legislators defined those attributes as: age, ancestry, disability, ethnicity, familial status, gender identity, homelessness, marital status, matriculation, national origin, political expression, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, service in the U.S. Armed Forces, status as an emergency responder, and status as a law enforcement, correctional or other peace officer.
Kami Chavis, a Wake Forest University law professor and hate crime policy expert, told The Washington Post broadening the definition of a hate crime could jeopardize the original intent of the statutes, to safeguard marginalized groups. “When we start broadening those categories, it is almost like the exceptions swallow the rule,” Chavis said. “Our national history is bound up in racial discrimination. . . . When you start giving [protections] to every single vulnerable category, then it could have a negative effect.”