Election 2016

Two Teens Charged with Hate Crime for Vandalizing Trump Sign, Letter and Spirit of the Law Be Damned

Trump supporters are the new protected class.

Would you consider Trump supporters a protected class who should be covered under hate crime laws? Police in Princess Anne, Maryland, apparently do.

Law enforcement officials in the town have charged two teen girls—D'Asia R. Perry and Joy M. Shuford, both 19—with a hate crime for setting fire to a Trump “Make America Great Again” sign. According to the Baltimore Sun, an officer wrote in the arrest report that “intentional burning of these political signs, along with the beliefs, religious views and race of this political affiliation, directly coincides with the victim." The paperwork states the pair burned the sign, which was posted in the parking lot of a sporting goods store, “because of said victim's race and religious beliefs based on the victim's political values."

As the Sun notes, “The only way to make any sense of this charge is to assume that anyone who is a minority (as both Ms. Shuford and Ms. Perry are) who dislikes President Trump must then automatically hate white people and Christians. Put another way, the Princess Anne police evidently think that to be a Trump supporter is synonymous with being white and Christian.”

The charges suggest the police in this case are going out of their way to punish the two girls for making a nonviolent gesture of disrespect toward those who are “white and Christian.” That tells you precisely how the police view these two groups and whose stature they think needs protecting.

Caryn L. McMahon, the deputy chief fire marshal, defended the hate crime charge by describing the sign burning as an act of "discrimination or malice toward a particular group, or someone's belief.”

In other words, the police are equating vandalism of a pro-Trump sign with acts of harassment, aggression or violence that specifically target African Americans, LGBT, Muslims or disabled people. It’s not enough to charge these girls with arson, destruction of property and trespassing, among other things, which already seems far too punitive for such a minor act, but at least makes legal sense. These officials have decided that the “political values” of Trump supporters require unique protections and that mucking with one of their political signs should be seen as a particularly vile and dangerous crime.

The Sun points out how that position is not only nonsensical, but doesn’t jibe with the letter or spirit of the law.

“What Maryland's hate crime statute prohibits is violence, harassment or destruction of property ‘because of another's race, color, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, gender, disability, or national origin, or because another is homeless.’ Political beliefs don't make the list.”

There’s a reason for that. The citation of “political values” and “belief” as areas covered under hate laws would vastly expand the grounds for arrestable hate crime offenses. As Elizabeth Nolan Brown writes at Reason:

[A]ny political disagreement that turned nasty could be classified as a hate crime, leaving the offender(s) open to much more severe penalties than they would face for a solo charge of something like assault or harassment...And of course the possibilities for authoritarian abuse are tremendous. Political protesters arrested for minor offenses could have hate-crime enhancements thrown at them. Any act of civil disobedience would immediately become a hate crime...Are there people out there who really think this is desirable, making crimes of political passion especially heinous?”

As the Sun observes, destruction of political signs during elections is fairly common. To classify every act in which a sign is damaged as a hate crime, with increased penalties, is absurd on its face. And that doesn't address the irony of police unilaterally declaring supporters of Donald Trump, a man who ran the most overtly racist campaign since George Wallace, a vulnerable group.

“Expressing support for Donald Trump does not make you a member of a protected class, nor does opposing him make you an anti-white, anti-Christian bigot,” the Sun notes. “There have been plenty of real hate crimes committed since the election that have given people reason to fear for their safety based on their race, ethnicity or religion. This wasn't one of them.”

The Hill reports that both girls have been released on a $20,000 bond. The fire is estimated to have caused $800 in damage. The Trump sign, which was barely burned, remains posted.

Kali Holloway is a senior writer and the associate editor of media and culture at AlterNet.

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