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No, It’s Not a Hate Crime to Set a Trump Sign on Fire

Trump Pence yard sign MAGA shutterstock_466582691

Two 19-year-old women, both Black college students, were arrested this week for setting fire to a Make America Great Again sign in front of a gun & hunting store in Baltimore, Maryland. I won’t officially say I support this because blah blah, illegal activity, litigation, yada yada yada, but, well …

Anyway, the completely WTF part of this story comes with the charges initially filed against the two friends. In addition to malicious burning, trespassing, malicious destruction of property, and second-degree arson, the women were charged with having committed a hate crime.

Yes, a hate crime. For burning a Trump yard sign.

A hate crime is defined by the FBI as an offense perpetrated with “an added element of bias.” Does burning a sign supporting bigotry come from bias? Sure, I guess, a bias against bigots. A hate crime is a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.” And while no one is saying burning a political sign isn’t illegal, calling it a hate crime deliberately twists the definition, and completely corrupts the entire purpose of hate crime laws, which are meant to protect historically marginalized and unprotected communities.

Luckily, the ridiculous hate crime charges, along with arson, have now been dropped (although the women still face the other charges). ACLU senior attorney David Rocah called the charges “beyond absurd” and “a profound misunderstanding of what the Maryland hate-crime statute says.”

The charging documents tried to pass this off as a hate crime because, as Princess Anne Police Sgt. Robert Smith wrote, “The intentional burning of these political signs, along with the beliefs, religious views and race of this political affiliation, directly coincides with the victim.”

In case you missed it, that basically says that the women burned the sign because supporting Trump is directly analogous to whiteness and, presumably, Christianity. For everyone still trying to make “reverse racism” a thing (by the way, it isn’t), the conviction of two black women committing a hate crime against a white man–the owner of the store–would have been a landmark case.

Rocah told the Baltimore Sun the charging documents seem to presume, groundlessly, that the race of the women was the deciding factor in their alleged crime. He says that’s ludicrous. “There’s nothing in the statement of charges that would warrant that presumption. The completely convoluted language that’s there reflects that basic fact.

He added, “It’s not OK to squelch someone’s political views, but that doesn’t excuse what the police and fire marshal did here. I think it’s clear that they need remedial education on what is and isn’t a hate crime in Maryland.

I think most of us can agree on that last point.

(via The Hill, Baltimore Sun, image: Shutterstock)

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