Pennsylvania Cops Abusing A Bad Law To Arrest People For Saying Angry Things To Them
from the but-people-actually-hate-us,-they-exclaimed-with-their-guns-at-low-ready dept
If you ever need a bad law abused, just look for a police officer. The police like to steer clear of knowledge whenever possible because it helps them out when legal liability is on the line. Qualified immunity rewards cops who work hard to make sure they don’t know the laws they’re enforcing. But when it comes to laws officers can use to punish those who fail to show them the respect they think they’re owed, officers know those inside and out.
Legislators have made things worse by passing “Blue Lives Matter” laws that grant extra legal protections to a class of Americans no one but cops think is a class routinely subject to oppression or bias. While a “Blue Lives Matter” law makes it easier to intimidate the general public, it’s not a necessity. Officers have used bad laws — like criminal defamation — to hassle and silence critics.
Over in Pennsylvania, a hate crime law crafted to protect ethnic and religious groups is being used by cops to arrest people for calling cops the sort of things cops get called all the time.
On Sept. 23, 2016, Robbie Sanderson, a 52-year-old Black man from North Carolina, was arrested for retail theft by in Crafton, a small town near Pittsburgh.
During the arrest, Sanderson called police “Nazis,” “skinheads” and “Gestapo,” according to an affidavit of probable cause filed by the Crafton Borough police.
For that, he was charged with a hate crime.
Someone needs to explain to these cops they’re not an ethnic or religious group. They’re just cops. It’s not a race or a religion, no matter how much law enforcement tries to set itself apart from the people it’s supposed to be serving. Being called a “Nazi” is not “ethnic intimidation.” Neither are the following examples provided by The Appeal, even if the language used actually seems to fit better with the legislative intent.
In January that year, Sannetta Amoroso, a 43-year-old Black woman from Pittsburgh, was charged with multiple counts of first-degree felony ethnic intimidation by McKees Rocks police Officer Brandy Harcha. According to police, Amoroso became angry while trying to report a crime and said “I’m going to kill all you white bitches” and “death to all you white bitches.”
Then in June, Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Robert Wareham charged Steven Ray Oller, 47, of Chambersburg, with misdemeanor ethnic intimidation for threatening officers and using a racial slur directed at a Latinx trooper during an arrest for suspected DUI.
And in August, Trooper James Welsh of the state police charged Seneca Anthony Payne, a 39-year-old Bucks County man, with misdemeanor ethnic intimidation. Payne allegedly called an officer a “Gandhi motherfucker” during a welfare check at Payne’s home.
For what it’s worth, state prosecutors seem more lawsuit-averse than these officers. The “ethnic intimidation” charges were dropped in all four cases. But here’s the thing: the same departments charging these people with “ethnic intimidation” are too cowardly to include their misuse of a law in the official paperwork. As The Appeal reports, all of these departments claimed no hate crimes occurred in their jurisdictions despite booking these arrestees for hate crimes.
If a law written in a way that can be construed to cover actions law enforcement normally wouldn’t consider crimes, it will be used to generate additional charges for arrestees. Cops know the laws far better than they claim in court. They like the grey area that allows suspicionless stops and pat downs, but absolute love the minutia that can turn normal reactions to police presence into an arrestable crime.