A Rhode Island district court judge rejected a woman’s request for disorderly conduct and hate crime charges against her to be dismissed during her trial on Thursday, June 3, disagreeing with her attorney’s assertion that the racist rant she hurled at a Black man vacationing with his family last year is protected by the First Amendment.
Christine Longo, a 34-year-old woman from South Kingstown, Rhode Island, was charged with disorderly conduct after unleashing the racist tirade on Adote Akpabie and his family last year. Three months later, Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha added the state’s hate crime law to her offense, which could result in a longer sentence if she’s convicted.
To meet the requirements for the law, prosecutors must prove the defendant “intentionally selected the person against whom the offense is committed” because of their “hatred or animus toward the actual or perceived disability, religion, color, race, national origin or ancestry, sexual orientation, or gender of that person.”
On Wednesday, June 2, Longo’s attorney Chad Bank asked District Court Judge James Caruolo to dismiss the case, but Caruolo rejected the request Thursday, calling Longo’s remarks “fighting words.”
Last June, Akpabie, his wife and two daughters traveled to Narragansett to visit the beach and were at a restaurant when they encountered Longo.
“Look at this [expletive] Black guy,” Longo said when she saw Akpabie walking in the restaurant to reserve a table, according to a witness. “Go back where you came from.” The woman then began to shout at Akpabie’s wife and two teenage daughters, who were waiting outside of the Coast Guard House.
Akpabie, a cargo plane pilot of East Providence, emigrated to the U.S. from the West African nation of Togo decades ago. He and one of his daughters testified testified in the case.
Bank argued that while his client’s comments could be described as “offensive” and “crass,” they weren’t criminal.
“I do not condone the language Miss Longo exhibited that day, however, her words are protected under the First Amendment,” he said.
Bank argued a guilty verdict would be equivalent to opening Pandora’s box.
“We’re going to go down a very slippery slope into a dark rabbit hole,” he said. Banks noted that Longo did not make threats of violence or use the N-word, but instead used the word “Black” which is the same word Akpabie uses to describe himself.
But Judge Caruolo, who found Akpabie’s testimony credible, said in court that Longo’s yelling, pointing and use of race-based epithets, met the legal standard pursued by prosecutors.
“Her use of the word Black,” he said, “in this court’s opinion, was synonymous with” the N-word, The Providence Journal reported.
Caruolo added, “It is this court’s opinion, they are fighting words, likely to provoke a reaction from the ordinary, average or reasonable person.”
“This incident made us feel unsafe, unwelcomed, and very threatened,” the father’s 17-year-old daughter wrote in a witness statement after the incident. “We felt as if we were being treated as inferior human beings.” She captured an image of Longo’s license plate as she drove away from the restaurant following the slurs.
Longo’s bench trial will continue this week, when Bank will present a witness for the defense.