Utah Woman Charged With Hate Crime for Stomping on 'Back the Blue' Sign
The case is yet another instance of law enforcement using hate crime enhancements to punish people for criticizing them.
A 19-year-old Utah woman has been charged with a hate crime for allegedly stomping on a "Back the Blue" sign in front of a police officer, the Salt Lake Tribune reports.
According to an affidavit obtained by the Tribune, a Garfield County Sheriff's deputy was conducting a traffic stop at a gas station in Panguitch, Utah, on Wednesday when he saw the woman "stomping on a 'Back the Blue' sign next to where the traffic stop was conducted, crumble it up in a destructive manner and throw it into a trash can all while smirking in an intimidating manner towards me."
The Tribune reports:
"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 affidavit says.
According to the affidavit, the allegations are being treated as a "hate crime enhanced allegation" due to "the demeanor displayed by [the woman] in attempts to intimidate law enforcement while destroying a 'Pro Law Enforcement' sign."
Local news outlet KSL.com reports that the woman has been charged with criminal mischief with a hate crime enhancement, as well as disorderly conduct.
The incident is just the latest in a string of instances of police using hate crime statutes to retaliate against citizens for criticizing or disparaging them.
Louisiana became the first state in the U.S. to make police a protected class under hate-crime laws when the governor signed the legislation into law in 2016. A New Orleans man was the first person to be charged under the law for allegedly shouting racial and sexist slurs at police.
In 2018, police officers in Crafton, Pennsylvania charged a black man with "ethnic intimidation" for calling them Nazis while he was being arrested. The Appeal reported that Pennsylvania law enforcement had charged at least three other residents with hate crimes for making offensive statements to police.
As Reason's Robby Soave wrote, such prosecutions are "good evidence that we ought to be skeptical of hate crime laws. Although intended to protect the underprivileged from bigotry and racism, they often permit the government to quell speech that is critical of authority."
It's not just hate crime laws, though. Police have employed a wide variety of laws against people exercising their protected First Amendment rights. Take for example the San Diego Police Department, which issued more than 80 tickets over the last decade for "seditious language" under an unconstitutional World War I–era law. The Voice of San Diego reported that the majority of the tickets were issued to minorities for allegedly using vulgarities.
There's a wide body of case law upholding the First Amendment right to flip off or otherwise offend police officers, but despite this, arrests and tickets are still meted out to people who hurt cops' feelings.
In January, law enforcement agencies in Tennessee investigated and arrested Joshua Garton on charges of harassment for posting a photoshopped picture on Facebook of two men urinating on a dead police officer's grave. The picture Garton posted was in fact a doctored photo of the cover of "Pissing on Your Grave," a single by The Rites, which originally depicted two people urinating on the tombstone of punk legend GG Allin.
The charges were dismissed. Garton filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in April alleging malicious prosecution, false arrest, and First Amendment retaliation for his arrest.
An Iowa man won a lawsuit in 2019 after he was charged with third-degree harassment for saying online that a sheriff's deputy was a "stupid sum bitch" and "butthurt."
Another Tennessee resident was arrested in 2017 after he wrote "Erin's police chief is a bitch" in white paint on the back of his car.
The Garfield County Sheriff's Office and the Garfield County Attorney's Office were not immediately available for comment.