NARRAGANSETT, R.I. (WPRI) ─ Adote Akpabie said he froze when Christine Longo started yelling at him, using racially charged language outside of a popular restaurant in Narragansett last summer.
Longo, who is white, is currently standing trial for allegedly berating Akpabie and his family, who are Black.
The 34-year-old South Kingstown woman 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.
Keith Hoffman, special assistant to the attorney general, said Longo’s “racist rant” happened when she was leaving the Coast Guard House last June.
“This is a case about a woman, who in a public place, directed extremely offensive words at a family because of their race,” Hoffman argued during the opening day of the bench trial in Washington County District Court.
Akpabie, 42, told the court he had just walked into the restaurant ahead of his family to reserve a table when Longo began yelling at him.
“Look at this [expletive] Black guy,” she’s accused of shouting. “Go back where you came from.”
“I just didn’t know what to say,” Akpabie said. “She was really agitated, she was mad at something.”
After verbally assaulting Akpabie, Hoffman said Longo left the restaurant and began shouting at the East Providence man’s wife and two daughters, who were standing outside looking at the menu.
“I saw my wife, she was crying,” Akpabie said. “She did not even say a word. My daughter was the one saying, ‘Why are you doing this to us? What do you mean?'”
Laudella Akpabie, the family’s 18-year-old daughter, told the court Longo’s words made her feel unsafe.
“I felt humiliated, I was in shock,” she said. “It made me feel unwelcome.”
Chad Bank, Longo’s attorney, argued his client’s comments did not meet the state’s definition of a hate crime.
“Even if hateful speech is offensive, it does not always constitute a hate crime,” Bank said.
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.”
But Hoffman argued the hate crime law does apply, especially since the Akpabies were the only Black family inside the restaurant at the time of Longo’s verbal assault.
“She intentionally selected this family for her verbal assault because of the color of their skin,” he said.
Longo, who wept as she was identified during the proceedings, refused to comment on the Akpabies’ testimony outside court. The bench trial is scheduled to continue Thursday morning.
The trial comes the same week the R.I. House of Representatives passed legislation that would incorporate African Heritage History Education in all elementary and secondary schools across the state.