There is little question that Timothy Trybus, the obnoxious drunk who angrily confronted Mia Irizarry as she was preparing for a birthday party at a Chicago park in June 2018, was guilty of disorderly conduct. He may also have committed simple assault. But both of those offenses are Class C misdemeanors, punishable by up to 30 days in jail. So why does he face up to five years in prison?

It is entirely because of the opinions Trybus expressed during his tirade, which this week led a jury to convict him of two felony hate crimes.

This case is highly instructive for anyone who doubts that hate crime laws punish people for what would otherwise be constitutionally protected speech. If Trybus had yelled at Irizarry because he hates birthday parties or because she was wearing a Green Bay Packers hat, he might still have been arrested for harassing her, but he would not be facing a prison sentence. Because he yelled at Irizarry about her Puerto Rican flag T-shirt, his misdemeanors became felonies.

A viral cellphone video recorded by Irizarry, which shows an audibly intoxicated and belligerent Trybus repeatedly harassing her, provided the damning evidence of his benighted views. “Why are you wearing that?” Trybus asks, pointing at the flag shirt. “This is America….You’re not gonna change us, you know that?…You should not be wearing that in the United States of America….If you’re an American citizen, you should not be wearing that shirt in America.”

Under Illinois law, Trybus’ behavior pretty clearly qualified as disorderly conduct, which includes “any act” performed “in such unreasonable manner as to alarm or disturb another and to provoke a breach of the peace.” His actions may also have amounted to assault, a charge that applies to anyone who “without lawful authority…knowingly engages in conduct which places another in reasonable apprehension of receiving a battery.”

Trybus’ lawyer, David Goldman, questioned whether Irizarry was “reasonably in fear of receiving a battery,” noting that he never touched her and that she remained calm throughout the episode. But in these circumstances, it would not be unreasonable for an unaccompanied woman to fear that the angry, intoxicated man who repeatedly rebuked her and refused to leave her alone might be capable of violence.

Either way, both of these offenses are misdemeanors. What made them felonies was the Illinois hate crime law, which applies “when, by reason of the actual or perceived race, color, creed, religion, ancestry, gender, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, or national origin of another individual or group of individuals,” someone commits any of several offenses, including assault and disorderly conduct. A hate crime is a Class 4 felony, punishable by up to three years in prison, for a first offense and a Class 3 felony, punishable by two to five years in prison, for a second offense if it is committed in “a public park.”

To put it another way, the maximum sentence for Trybus’ offenses is 60 times as long as it would have been if prosecutors had not invoked the hate crime statute. And that staggering multiplier applies purely because the object of his ire was the Puerto Rican flag on Irizarry’s shirt, suggesting that he targeted her because of her race, color, or ancestry. Trybus could spend an extra 59 months behind bars for no reason other than the content of his beliefs, as opposed to the manner in which he expressed them. That clearly amounts to punishing him for his opinions, which is not something the government should be doing in a society that claims to respect freedom of conscience and freedom of speech.

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