Exactly as many suspected, the overly judicious first use of Louisiana’s new Blue Lives Matter law proves the measure will be abused to give police the status of protected class — as a man who verbally insulted officers has now been charged with a hate crime.
Per the ridiculously unnecessary Blue Lives Matter legislation, the voluntarily undertaken occupations of police officer, emergency responder, and firefighter are protected against hate crimes the way historically persecuted categories like race, gender, creed, religion, and sexual orientation have been — making crimes specifically targeting cops hate crimes with enhanced penalties in the eyes of the law.
Raul Delatoba, however, did not specifically target police because they’re police — in fact, the 34-year-old homeless man committed only a minor act of non-law enforcement-owned property destruction.
Around 5:15 a.m. Monday morning, an inebriated Delatoba pounded on the window of Bourbon Street’s Royal Sonesta Hotel, catching the attention of a security guard who worked nearby. Leston Smith, the guard, approached Delatoba and told him to stop banging the window — to which the drunken man, according to the arrest report cited by the Times-Picayune, responded by “calling him a n____r.”
Smith and a security supervisor for the Sonesta then flagged down two Louisiana State Troopers, who brought the ornery man to the New Orleans Police Department’s 8th District station — where he called a female officer “a dumb c__t” and another officer “a dumb n____r.”
Police charged Delatoba with “simple criminal damage to property, disturbing the peace, and a felony-level hate crime” — by ineptly and incorrectly invoking the new law to grossly enhance his otherwise minor charges.
Simply put, police charged Delatoba with committing an act of hate speech — which the legislation’s sponsors never intended and the law doesn’t allow, but which critics warned overzealous police would attempt.
“The hate crime charge stems from Delatoba’s attack on individuals based on their race, sex, and occupation,” the arrest warrant contends.
Realizing the absurdity with which Blue Lives Matter had been administered in this case, NOPD backtracked on Thursday, with spokesman Tyler Gamble stating the law was applied incorrectly.
After an initial review of the case, Gamble said “it is clear that the responding officer incorrectly applied the law relative to a hate crime in this incident.”
Delatoba certainly yelled bad words in the commission of a minor crime, but the offense he committed was against a window — not police, and not their official property.
Astonishingly, what amounts to bureaucratic red tape has prevented the felony charge from being abandoned thus far. That decision, despite the patently obvious misapplication admitted by police, ultimately falls on the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office, which — equally as astonishingly — plans to conduct a review of the police report and interview witnesses before determining whether the charges under the ludicrous law are warranted.
“Based up on [sic] that review,” said spokesman for District Attorney Leon Cannizarro’s Office, Christopher Bowman, on Wednesday, per the Times-Picayune, “the office will make a determination whether or not to initiate formal charges, and which charges to initiate.”
As the New Orleans Advocate noted, “Hate-crimes laws may be invoked only when a more serious criminal offense accompanies verbal slurs.”
Offensive speech, unaccompanied by additional crimes to back it up, thankfully remains thus far protected by the Constitution — but because Delatoba’s charges are still being considered at all shows a troubling portent for how the law could be abused, if not now, in the future.
Indeed, the man’s $10,000 release bond for the (nonexistent) “hate crime” of “yelling bad words,” as Reason aptly put it, is twice that for the actual crime of vandalism.
Even the notably picky Anti-Defamation League spoke out against charging Delatoba under the hate crimes statute, and, as Allison Padilla-Goodman explained, the case shows the need for greater understanding of what constitutes a hate crime.
“I mean this for law enforcement as well as for community members,” the Advocate quoted Padilla-Goodman. “We just have a lot of catch-up to do.”
Louisiana’s Blue Lives Matter law served as the model for similarly irrational proposed legislation now awaiting deliberation in Congress — but the preposterous first attempt to apply the model in New Orleans gives every indication it can and will be abused.
Offering enhanced protected status to a freely-chosen occupation comes with the innate risk of transforming an already notoriously trigger happy group into pre-victims treasure hunting for the perfect excuse to exact harsh punishment unnecessarily — and without just cause.
Although Delatoba used offensive words to garner felony charges, the legislation would make it simpler for police to felonize undeserving people in record numbers.
As alternative media and anti-police brutality activists have repeatedly advised, police already artificially bolster charges by tacking on things like assaulting an officer or resisting arrest — for contact which wouldn’t warrant a second glance were it not for a gun and a badge.
Should the legislation pass, a cop would need only write in his or her report the arrestee shouted “fuck the police” — whether or not they actually did — to brand the person permanently with a felony, and all the negative consequences therein.
And, if we’re being honest, shouldn’t someone who chooses to be a cop have thicker skin than to be intolerant of an insult?