Woman faces hate crime charge for stepping on ‘Back The Blue’ sign in Utah

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Utah hate crime case attracts national attention, after local authorities charged a young woman with hate crime for allegedly degrading a “Back the Blue” sign in front of a sheriff’s deputy.

Utah is one of at least five states – along with Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, and New Hampshire – that list law enforcement officers as well as race and gender in the protected categories of their. hate crime laws, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

Lauren Gibson, 19, is accused of stepping on a “Back the Blue” sign while “smiling intimidatingly” at the Garfield County Sheriff’s Deputy. The deputy had stopped a group of vehicles for speeding, according to the sheriff’s department.

“The officer wrote in court documents that the incident should be treated as a hate crime as it was an ‘attempt to intimidate law enforcement’,” member station KUER reports. .

Garfield County District Attorney Barry Huntington told NPR the case is moving forward, although he was not sure Thursday morning if a court date had been set. Gibson retained the services of a defense attorney, he said.

“We haven’t spoken yet,” Huntingon added, after being asked if the case could be resolved without a trial.

Local sheriff defends charges

Sheriff James D. Perkins defends the charges against Gibson, saying in a written statement: “We are very disturbed by the hatred shown towards law enforcement for no apparent reason.”

Alleging the young woman was “extremely aggressive and violent” towards the deputy, Perkins said: “Ms Gibson caused a public disturbance and deliberately targeted the officer in a very unpeaceful manner.

The sheriff added that despite stopping vehicles for driving 50 mph in a 30 mph zone and seeing tobacco products in the car, the deputy had issued verbal warnings rather than writing tickets. But Gibson was arrested for the pro-police sign, and she now faces nearly a year in prison if convicted of criminal mischief. The increase in hate crimes takes charges to a more serious level of misdemeanor.

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In an interview with The Daily Beast, Gibson admitted to holding up the sign in front of the deputy before stepping on it and throwing it in a trash can. She says her actions were aimed at showing solidarity with her friend who was driving.

ACLU says case sends scary message

Under Utah hate crimes law, a person can be convicted of a hate crime if they are found to have committed an offense “with intent to intimidate or terrorize a person. other person or with reason to believe that their action would intimidate or terrorize that person. ”

At this point, the question remains open as to whether Gibson could be considered to have intimidated or terrorized the MP, whom the sheriff described as a veteran member of the department who fought in the US military. Critics say the Utah case is proof that including the police in hate crime laws opens the door to attacking dissent and the right to free speech.

“This type of indictment decision sends an extremely frightening message to the community that the government will call for tougher penalties for people… who do not agree with the actions of the police,” the American Civil said. Liberties Union of Utah.

“We constantly warn that [hate crime] enhancements are often used to distinguish unpopular groups or messages rather than providing protections to marginalized communities, ”the ACLU chapter added. “This case has confirmed these warnings. ”

Most hate crime laws that include the police also include firefighters and emergency responders. Two states – Utah and Vermont – also include U.S. military and veterans in their hate crime protections, according to the Brennan Center.

Under US federal law, hate crimes are defined in five different statutes that have broadened the scope of protected categories since the Department of Justice began enforcing them in 1968. As the DOJ says, the laws cover crimes “committed on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or disability.

Garfield is a rural county in southern Utah, best known for its vast expanses of forests and national parks, including Bryce Canyon. Its population is around 5,000 people, according to the US census.


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