SOUTH KINGSTOWN. R.I. (AP) — A Rhode Island woman who told a Black family to “go back where you came from” during a racially-motivated tirade at a beachfront restaurant last summer was convicted of disorderly conduct Tuesday.
Christine Longo, 34, who is white, was not immediately sentenced as the judge weighs whether to enhance her punishment based on the prosecution’s contention that her actions were a hate crime.
Rhode Island does not have a free-standing hate crime statute.
But if a defendant is convicted of a crime, prosecutors can seek an enhanced sentence in a separate hearing by proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the offense was motivated by “hatred or animus toward the actual or perceived disability, religion, color, race, national origin or ancestry, sexual orientation, or gender of that person.”
Longo was at the Coast Guard House restaurant in Narragansett last June when Adote Akpabie walked in to seek a table while his wife and two teenage daughters perused the menu outside, according to the police report.
Unprovoked, Longo, using profanity, yelled and drew attention to “this Black guy,” according to police.
She then went outside and told the rest of the family that “Blacks don’t belong here,” according to police.
Akpabie, a pilot from East Providence, testified that he was “a bit surprised.”
His 18-year-old daughter, Laudela, testified at the bench trial that she felt “humiliated” and “unwelcome.”
Longo’s attorney, Chad Bank, said at trial that his client’s remarks were constitutionally protected free speech.
“The rule of law is clear,” Bank said. “Offensive and hateful speech is protected.”
Bank argued that the enhancement was not applicable, but the judge disagreed.
“It is this court’s opinion that they are fighting words, likely to provoke a violent reaction from the ordinary, average, or reasonable person,” Judge James Caruolo said at a previous hearing.
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