NARRAGANSETT, R.I. (WPRI) ─ The attorney of a white woman standing trial for reportedly berating a Black family as she was leaving a popular restaurant last June is requesting the judge dismiss the case.
Christine Longo, 34, of South Kingstown, is standing trial for allegedly berating Adote Akpabie and his family at the Coast Guard House in Narragansett.
“Look at this [expletive] Black guy,” Longo’s accused of shouting at Akpabie as he was walking into the restaurant to reserve a table. “Go back where you came from.”
She then reportedly began shouting at the East Providence man’s wife and two daughters, who were standing outside looking at the menu.
Longo has been charged with a misdemeanor count of disorderly conduct and R.I. Attorney General Peter Neronha added the state’s rarely used hate crime law to her offense, meaning she could face a stricter sentence if found guilty.
The bench trial resumed Wednesday, where the prosecution rested its case.
Chad Bank, Longo’s attorney, argues that, while what she said was offensive, they don’t meet the state’s definition of a hate crime.
“This case is about the First Amendment,” Bank said. “This case is about free speech. This case is about the state’s censorship of free speech. This case is about the thought police.”
State law requires prosecutors to prove that 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.”
“The words uttered that day by Miss Longo were offensive, insensitive, crass, cruel, hurtful, maybe even hateful,” Bank said. “I do not condone the language Miss Longo exhibited that day, however, her words are protected under the First Amendment.”
But Robert Johnson, special assistant to the attorney general, disagrees.
“It’s the meaning behind the words that are insulting someone’s race, debasing them to their race and nationality alone, that is the offensive, that is where the fighting comes from,” Johnson said.
The judge is expected to decide whether the case will be dismissed Thursday. If the case is not dismissed, Bank said he plans on calling several witnesses.
“Her words are not criminal,” he said.