NARRAGANSETT, R.I. (WPRI) ─ “Terrified.”
That’s how Adote Akpabie described his family to Narragansett officer Manuel Sifontes after a white woman reportedly berated the Black family of four as she was leaving the Coast Guard House last June.
The woman, Christine Longo, is now standing trial for allegedly yelling at them using racially charged language.
“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.”
The 34-year-old then reportedly began shouting at the East Providence man’s wife and two daughters, who were standing outside looking at the menu.
Sifontes testified Thursday during the second day of trial that upon his arrival, Akpabie appeared to be “in disbelief” of what had happened.
“I got the impression that he was embarrassed, ashamed and just upset about the whole situation,” Sifontes said.
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.
Sifontes said after speaking with the Akpabies, he went inside the restaurant and briefly spoke with the hostess.
“She could tell something had transpired,” he said, adding that the hostess didn’t see exactly what had happened.
When Chad Bank, Longo’s attorney, asked why Sifontes didn’t seek out any additional witnesses, he said the parking lot was bustling with people.
“There weren’t many people standing around,” Sifontes recalled. “It was mostly people coming in and out and not sticking around.”
A Brown University professor that specializes in Africana studies also testified Thursday to put what Longo reportedly shouted at the Akpabies into historical context.
Francoise Hamlin, who was called as an expert witness by the prosecution, called the phrase “go back where you came from” divisive.
“These are not friendly words, it’s not a friendly phrase,” she told the court. “This color blind language has now been used to mask very hurtful and dangerous behavior.”
Bank tried to discredit the need for Hamlin’s testimony in this case because she wasn’t there.
“She is listening to and reading a one-sided police report,” Bank said.
The judge, who gave the prosecution a very fine scope as to what Hamlin could testify about, called her insight helpful.
The bench trial is scheduled to resume next Wednesday.