Courts Politics
04202017_Trump_MAGA_sign Matt York, File/AP

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April 20, 2017

Vandalizing a Trump campaign sign is a hate crime? One police department thinks so

In March, PhillyVoice reported on a pro-Trump woman who detailed numerous reports of vandalism at her Collingswood, New Jersey home: a keyed car, yard signs and banners stolen, rock-throwing and insult-slinging. And a threat to burn her house down.

Now comes news that two Maryland women have been charged with a hate crime for setting a Donald Trump sign on fire.

According to the Baltimore Sun, D'Asia R. Perry, 19, and Joy M. Shuford, 19, were arrested by police in the town of Princess Anne, Maryland. 

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," according to the Sun. It also stated the women burned the “Make America Great Again” sign 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."

The officer's filing of the charges assumes a protected-class status for supporters of President Trump under hate crime laws.

In its editorial, 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.”
Caryn L. McMahon, the deputy chief fire marshal, described the sign burning as an act of "discrimination or malice toward a particular group, or someone's belief,” in a defense of the hate-crime charges.

Elizabeth Nolan Brown at Reason writes that the arson charges make sense...

But a hate crime? That's where this story gets sticky. The government is effectively saying that having any political motive for doing something is as deplorable as doing it out of racism, misogyny, or hatred of LGBT people.

For a number of reasons, libertarians (myself included) tend to oppose categorically harsher treatment of offenses motivated on "hate," which has always been a slippery topic to get a legal hold on. But at least the typical criteria for labeling something a hate crime are easy enough to understand—these are offenses motivated by animosity toward a particular identity category (like race, ethnicity, religion, gender, or sexual orientation) that we consider either innate/immutable or (in the case of religion) at least sacrosanct.

“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 noted. “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.”

Both women were released on a $20,000 bond, The Hill reported. While the blaze caused about $800 in damage, the sign – barely burned – remains.