A Lansing woman will serve 30 days in jail and pay almost $4,500 after being sentenced for attempted ethnic intimidation by police.
Patricia Lone, 57, pleaded no contest to attempted ethnic intimidation and had both that charge and a first-degree home invasion charge dismissed. In addition to the jail time, Lone, who was sentenced on Tuesday in Clinton County, will also serve one year probation.
The charge of ethnic intimidation is rarely used in Michigan, with just 160 people in the state being charged with it from 2014 to 2018, according to the State Court Administrative Office.
Ethnic intimidation, generally known as a “hate crime,” is defined as someone “causing physical contact” with someone, damaging property or a person, or threatening someone “maliciously, and with specific intent to intimidate or harass another person because of that person’s race, color, religion, gender or national origin,” according to the law’s text.
It is considered a felony punishable by imprisonment up to two years, a fine of up to $5,000 or both. It was originally passed in 1988 and amended in 1989.
Changing how hate crimes are handled and defined has been in the Michigan government within the past year.
In March of this year, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel launched a Hate Crimes Unit within the Criminal Division of her department. The unit is charged with investigating and prosecuting hate crimes.
“Hate itself is not a crime and our civil liberties protect the right to speak about even the most terrible of things,” said Nessel in a statement at the time. “But when a criminal offense is committed against a person or property and it is motivated by an offender’s bias against a particular group, then my Office will act. To do that we intend to work with both federal and local authorities to ensure these crimes are thoroughly investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent possible under the law.”
Nessel received pushback from Michigan legislators who were worried that the incidence of hate speech during a crime could elevate it to a “hate crime,” regardless of original intent.
Ethnic intimidation laws have also received pushback in other states, with some saying the law only covers crimes that were motivated by race, rather than those that had slurs as a byproduct.
An Ohio man was charged with ethnic intimidation in March after a neighborhood disagreement turned personal. During the argument, a white man allegedly referred to a black man by the N-word and told him to “go back to the plantation.”
His attorney said he expected to challenge the constitutionality of the city’s ethnic intimidation law, arguing that it was a violation of the First Amendment.
It is unclear what became of the case.
Similar concerns were raised in January 2017 in Pennsylvania after a high school freshman was charged with ethnic intimidation and cyber harassment for making a video that showed a black classmate eating chicken while the white student used the N-word and made references to welfare and other racist stereotypes.
The district attorney for the case said he believes he made the right decision, even though charging someone with ethnic intimidation can be tricky because it requires prosecutors to determine a motive.
Nessel that prosecuting hate crimes as such “is not policing thoughts or words. While some people in this state may choose to exercise their right to free speech by thinking hateful thoughts, saying evil words or associating with hateful people, as attorney general, it is my job to protect that right and not prosecute, even if I vehemently disagree with those thoughts, words or associations,” according to the Detroit Free Press.
Nessel encouraged those who had information about a hate crime to contact her unit.
“Hate crimes are not just an attack on a specific individual but a message to an entire group,” Nessel said in a statement. “That’s why they’re so damaging to communities and why we need to partner with our local authorities if we hope to eradicate them.”
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Jordyn Pair is a reporter with Battleground State News and The Michigan Star. Follow her on Twitter at @JordynPair. Email her at [email protected]