US Teen Facing One Year In Prison For Insulting Police
US authorities in Utah have charged a young woman with a hate crime over allegedly "defacing" a pro-police "Back the Blue" sign in front of a sheriff's deputy.
Lauren Gibson, 19, is accused of stomping on a "Back the Blue" sign while "smirking in an intimidating manner" at a Garfield County sheriff's deputy. The US officer alleged in court documents the event should be treated as a hate crime because it was an 'attempt to intimidate law enforcement. According to the sheriff's office, the incident occurred after the deputy stopped several vehicles for allegedly speeding. The Sheriff's department also alleges that the young woman was "extremely aggressive and violent" toward the deputy, "Ms. Gibson caused a public disturbance and purposely targeted the officer in a very unpeaceful manner."
Hate crime or free speech?
The sheriff's department claims the vehicles for allegedly going 50 mph in a 30-mph zone and seeing "tobacco products" in the car, the deputy had issued verbal warnings rather than writing tickets. Gibson, was a passenger in the car, in an interview she acknowledged waving the sign at the deputy before stepping on it and tossing it into a trash can. She said her actions were meant to protest the police and show solidarity with her friend who was driving.
Gibson was subsequently arrested after holding a protest and targeting the pro-police sign. She now faces nearly a year in jail if convicted on criminal mischief charges. The hate crime enhancement raises the charges to a more serious level of misdemeanor. Utah is one of at least five states, along with Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi and New Hampshire, that have unironically written into law that police officers, along with race and sex, in their hate crime laws' protected categories. Under Utah's state hate crimes law, a person can be convicted of a hate crime if found to have committed an offense "with the intent to intimidate or terrorize another person or with reason to believe that his action would intimidate or terrorize that person."
The Sheriff's department doubles down on charges
Sheriff James D. Perkins defends the charges against the young woman, announcing in a written statement, "We are greatly disturbed by the hatred shown to law enforcement officers for no apparent reason."
For what reason would people dislike the US police?
This inclusion of law enforcement officers into hate crime legislation has drawn nationwide criticism. Protests and criticisms against the police are fueled by a lack of accountability among law enforcement. General distrust and repugnance for the police come as a result of the US police's rampant incidents of racial violence and systematic intimidation of nonwhites and women. Some officers have even been observed collaborating with known hate groups such as the KKK, and the terrorist organization the Proud Boys. The FBI has also reported that white supremacists have been infiltrating local and state law enforcement and posed a significant threat to national security.
Across the globe, protests have been held to condemn not just US police brutality, but also the institution of law enforcement as a whole. Between January 2013 and May 2021, police in the United States killed at least 9,179 people. The UN has also called for an investigation into human rights abuses by US law enforcement, especially against citizens of African descent who tend to have darker skin.
The blue Trojan horse within hate crime laws
In the United States hate crime enhancements are oftentimes used to single out unpopular groups or messages rather than provide protections for marginalized communities. Most hate crime laws that include police also include firefighters and emergency responders. Two states, Utah and Vermont, also include U.S. military service members and veterans in their hate crime protections. This opens the door to criminalizing anti-war protests or criticisms of the US military or its adventurism abroad.
U.S. federal law defines hate crimes in five different statutes that, since 1968, have expanded the scope of protected categories. The laws cover crimes committed on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, sex, or disability.
Violation of civil and human rights
Human rights and civil observers say the Utah case is proof that including police in hate crime laws gives the police the opportunity to crush dissent, the US constitutional right to free speech, and the human right for Peaceful Assembly. According to the human rights charters, Peaceful Assembly means that everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. The right of peaceful assembly includes the right to hold meetings, sit-ins, strikes, rallies, events, or protests, both offline and online.
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