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Officer, Called ‘Cracker,’ Arrests Black Man for Hate Crime

June 27, 1991

PUNTA GORDA, Fla. (AP) _ A black man was arrested under Florida’s new hate-crimes law for calling a police officer a ″white cracker.″

Civil libertarians are crying foul, saying police abused the law.

The charge was filed after Patrolman Stephen Keyes was sent to the home of Michael Hamm, 21, to break up an argument Monday, police said. Hamm allegedly warned, ″I’ll shoot you, you white cracker.″

″Cracker″ is a derogatory term for a poor Southern white.

The patrolman charged Hamm with assault on an officer for the threat, then tacked on the prejudice charge under a hate-crimes law enacted in 1989.

Invoking that law means Hamm could face an unspecified sentence in state prison instead of up to a year in the county jail.

″The officer felt that the threat was serious and it was directed at him as a white police officer,″ said police spokeswoman Naomi Patterson.

American Civil Liberties Union attorney Loren Siegel said the charge violates the defendant’s freedom of speech.

″I think the essence of the Florida statute is to prevent people from attacking others because of their color or ethnic origin,″ he said. ″It’s to protect people. Officers should be able to take a certain amount of derogatory comments.″

He predicted the charge would be thrown out. He said that the U.S. Supreme Court has previously held that obscenities hurled at police officers are not in the same class as statements directed at private citizens.

Hamm was being held without bail on the assault charge and on additional counts after he allegedly sold drugs to an undercover officer.

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