How a minor altercation becomes a hate crime: take a blue-collar neighborhood dispute that starts with insults and ends with shoving and punching but no-one hurt. Make one party an ex-con who had gone straight, the other a homosexual. Let them call each other “drug dealer” and “faggot.” Result: since homosexuals are a protected class, and someone said “faggot,” the State of Maine goes for a $5000 penalty plus attorney’s fees and a 200-foot no-go area around the homosexual.
Since the link won’t last, here’s the story:
Hate allegation is unfair, man claims
By ALAN ELLIOTT / Journal Tribune Staff Writer
BIDDEFORD – Reginald Gilbert Sr. will be the first to tell you he’s no angel.
When he was younger, he sold drugs, used drugs and found himself a world of trouble. The state gave him five years in prison to think things over.
Soon after he walked out he met Dorothy Simoneau. The couple live in a Yale Street apartment with a big back yard where their younger kids can play.
A sheet rock hanger for the past 10 years, Gilbert brought home plenty of dirt under his fingernails. But he managed, until May 17, to keep his nose pretty much clean.
But now Gilbert and his son, Reginald Gilbert Jr., are charged with violating the civil rights of a Yale Street neighbor in what the attorney general’s office calls a hate crime. Reginald Gilbert Jr. reported to Biddeford police Wednesday, charged with assaulting the man on May 17. Gilbert Sr. was charged with terrorizing the man.
The state is seeking an injunction against both Gilberts that would create a “protective zone,” requiring them to stay at least 200 feet from the 36-year-old victim of the alleged assault. The injunction also seeks a civil penalty of $5,000 and attorney’s fees.
The Gilberts have until Aug. 19 to answer the charges. Gilbert Sr. says they’ve been able only to find attorneys willing to handle the charges made by city police, but not the state case.
If the Gilberts do not reply, Assistant Attorney General Christina Moylan said a judge could grant the injunction by default. The state’s version the events in May has been the only description available since paperwork for the injunction request was filed July 26.
But on Wednesday, Gilbert Sr. said there was a conversation between the neighbor and Gilbert Jr. and that the next morning, the Gilberts woke up with the words “Drug Dealer” painted on the outside of their apartment. Gilbert Sr. confronted the neighbor, accusing him of painting the graffiti. That’s when the language began to heat up.
Gilbert Sr. says that words went back and forth as the three men stood at the end of Gilbert’s driveway and there was a physical confrontation. Both men, the Gilberts said, remained standing.
Gilbert Sr. has a hard time understanding what a hate crime is. He said he’s not prejudiced against gays or anyone else. He has friends who are gay, he said, and works for gays.
But the injunction accuses the Gilberts of using a long list of slurs, in combination with making threats and, in the case of Gilbert Jr., physical force. Those slurs included “child molester,” “queer” and “faggot.”
In a second incident, at 2 a.m. the following day, Gilbert Sr. allegedly continued using the slurs, even after police arrived.
Biddeford Police Department Detective Elizabeth Coleman said even abusive language is protected under the Constitution as free speech – until it is combined with threats or physical force. She said police routinely report cases that include abusive language to the attorney general.
The state then decides, Moylan said, whether the language attacks a victim’s race, gender, ancestry, national origin, disability or sexual preference.
Whether or not someone like Gilbert is genuinely prejudiced is not the issue.
“We don’t try to get into the mind, that’s not really our job,” Moylan said. “We look at objective indicators, and language is the most common objective indicator. … We don’t try to stop prejudice, we try to stop certain kinds of conduct.”
The purpose of the injunction is primarily to put a barrier between hate victims and their attackers, Moylan said, “so that nobody is targeted like this again.”