In Utah, 19-year-old Lauren Gibson is facing hate crime charges after allegedly defacing a “Back the Blue” pro-cop sign in front of a sheriff’s deputy. Apparently, Utah is one of at least five states that include not just categories such as race, gender, and religion, but also “status as a law enforcement officer” as a protected category under their hate crime laws. After all, waking up every day and going to work at a job that you could quit at literally any time is exactly the same as being Black!
Gibson has been charged with disorderly conduct and criminal mischief with a hate-crime enhancement after a Garfield County sheriff’s deputy accused her of stomping on the sign while “smirking in an intimidating manner” after he’d pulled over a group of vehicles for speeding. The misdemeanor charge carries a maximum one-year sentence. Local news station KUER reported that the officer wrote in court documents that “the incident should be treated as a hate crime because it was an ‘attempt to intimidate law enforcement.’” Apparently, police officers are claiming they were “intimidated” by an adolescent whose most dangerous qualities appears to have been her shoe.
By including the hate-crime enhancement, county prosecutors allege that Gibson’s actions were committed with the “intent to intimidate or terrorize another person”—which would put her in violation of the same 2019 hate crime law that included law enforcement as a protected category. Although experts told The Daily Beast that including the hate-crime enhancement in this situation is a stretch no matter how you look at it, unfortunately, a similar incident from last summer has created a precedent within Garfield County.
In August 2020, 32-year-old Joseph Dawson was arrested and charged with a hate crime after pulling down a “Back the Blue” sign at a gas station in Garfield County and using pink spray paint to cover the “blue” with “bisexual.” In December, Dawson was found guilty and sentenced to two days in jail and a year of probation. Lauren Gibson told The Daily Beast that the deputy who arrested her actually alluded to Dawson’s case. “He told me, ‘Do you want to know what happened to the last person that got arrested for this?’” she said. “He was kind of threatening me in that way.”
In a statement denouncing the charges against Gibson, the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah wrote:
“This kind of charging decision sends an extremely chilling message to the community that the government will seek harsher punishment for people ... who disagree with police actions.
We consistently warn that [hate crime] enhancements are oftentimes used to single out unpopular groups or messages rather than provide protections for marginalized communities. This case has confirmed those warnings.”
“If it was a dentist’s sign or something and I just crushed a dentist sign or something in front of them, like, nothing would have happened,” Gibson said to The Daily Beast. “It’s the same thing. it’s just an occupation.”