In defense of ignorance

A Chicago man has been charged with two counts of felony hate crimes for confronting and screaming at a woman in a Chicago forest preserve about a Puerto Ricanan flag shirt she was wearing.

The incident occurred several weeks ago, but a video of the incident has recently gone viral.

The woman, Mia Irizarry, appealed for help from a forest preserve officer, but was ignored. That officer, Patrick Connor, has resigned.

Timothy Tribus was orginally charged with misdemeanor assault and disorderly conduct. Those charges were amended by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office to include two hate crime counts.

Chicago Tribune:

U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez said in an interview it’s clear to him the state’s attorney did “the right thing.”

Gutierrez, a national leader on immigration who has been vociferous in his criticism of President Donald Trump, tied the comments on the video to the general political atmosphere in the country.

“There should be consequences. People have to learn there are consequences, especially in the era of Trump,” Gutierrez said. “I really do believe there are people who say to themselves, ‘If Trump can do it, I can do it. Why can’t I go out there and say the things the president says?’”

He said this is a moment in time where local authorities must step in on racial and other issues, as he said the more conservative federal Justice Department is less interested in these issues than past administration.

“I think this is the way until we retrieve rational governance at the federal level,” Gutierrez said.

Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia had called for a hate crime charge earlier and said prosecutors’ actions were “the right thing to do in this situation.”

“This should have happened sooner but sometimes it takes an incident like this to go viral and for the public to chime in to really make us appreciate the consequences of our actions,” Garcia said.

Watching the video, Garcia said, “it’s reasonable to conclude that the way this individual confronted the woman constituted a hate crime. It was threatening and menacing and obviously full of racial ethnic hatred.”

Yes, it was all those things. It was also ill-mannered, boorish, loutish, and incredibly ignorant (Puerto Ricans are citizens of the United States).

But was it a felony? Certainly misdemeanor assault charges are in order, but is it really a "hate crime" to voice ignorant, bigoted words?

The question isn't if Tribus is an ignorant racist. The question should be is screaming obscenities at a Puerto Rican woman "protected speech" under the First Amendment or a felony offense?

Charging someone with a felony not for what he did, but for what he said is chilling. Far too many people today are willing to criminalize studpidity and ignorance when it comes to free speech. The dubious application of the hate crime statute in this case cries out for debate, or at least, it should give us pause to stop and think. Is this the direction we want the interpretation of one of our most cherished rights to go? 

For me, the answer is no. Shame on Tribus. Ostracize him. Shun him. But he shouldn't go to jail for what he said.

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