A 36-year-old man is facing hate crime charges after writing a racial slur on a public CTA sign. While this may seem like it falls under the banner of free speech, and there are those who want it to fall under the banner of free speech, defacing anything that does not belong to you is considered a property crime in every state in the country. Further, the law makes room to criminalize speech that is used purely for the sake of intimidation and/or falls under the banner of civil rights protections. In this case, defacing a public sign for the purpose of intimidating people of color, people who practice other religions, or gender non-conforming people is a crime in Illinois and under federal law.
Police observed the man using a Sharpie to write something on the sign. According to the allegations, the man wrote “Black line” and then added a racial slur, according to police.
Typically, in a situation like this, the police would report what the racial slur was. In this case, they have not, but we can guess. It then becomes a matter of proving that the individual did indeed use a racial slur or was likely to complete a racial slur if given a chance. However, if police interrupted him in the middle of writing the racial slur, then he may still have a viable defense to the hate crime charges.
Analyzing Hate Crime Charges in Illinois
What is a hate crime? Well, there are two elements to a hate crime charge. The first is any other crime. You must commit a crime to be charged with a hate crime. Second, the crime must be for the purpose of harassing or intimidating members of the public associated with a protected class. Protected classes include race, color, creed, religion, sexual orientation, gender identification, disability, and age. In this case, we have a man committing a property crime on a sign who is using criminal conduct to harass and intimidate people of color. So, the prosecution will be able to establish the elements of the crime.
The second question then becomes: How far can they take this? Well, as you can readily imagine, it is difficult to establish the frame of mind of a defendant unless you have strong evidence. In this case, they might have strong evidence or they might be guessing at what the defendant intended to write. Even if the charges are dropped later, the police have created an event in this man’s life that will likely scare him from committing similar crimes in the future. Or, it might embolden him to commit similar crimes again. At this point, everything rides on the jury agreeing that the man was writing a racial slur.
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David Freidberg represents the interests of Chicago residents who have been charged with serious crimes. In a lot of cases, defendants can be overcharged based on public outrage. Call today to schedule an appointment, and we can begin preparing your defense immediately.