New Orleans cops seek first-ever ‘Blue Lives Matter’ hate crime charges

It’s a weird test case for a bad, redundant law.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Bill Haber
CREDIT: AP Photo/Bill Haber

An American is facing charges for the first time under a new state law that makes it a crime to be mean to cops.

Police in New Orleans arrested 28-year-old Raul Delatoba on Labor Day under Louisiana’s so-called “Blue Lives Matter Law,” the first statute in the nation to define attacks on law enforcement officers as hate crimes. Delatoba allegedly smashed a hotel window in the French Quarter, then used a racial slur in addressing both a nearby security guard and the officers who arrested him.

An arrest warrant first reported by the Times-Picayune states that an NOPD sergeant instructed officers to charge Delatoba with a felony hate crime in addition to minor charges for property destruction and disturbing the peace. Delatoba called one officer a “dumb-ass n —” and the other a “dumb-ass c — ,” the warrant says.

A drunk racist will make a strange test case for the state’s new law, which just went into effect last month. Delatoba’s hate speech against officers does not appear connected to his initial crime of smashing a window, Anti-Defamation League regional director Allison Padilla-Goodman told the Times-Picayune. The pro-cop legislation, like other hate crime policies, requires some firm connection between the “underlying offense” and the evidence of a hateful motive.

Delatoba is not accused of physically attacking any of the people he slurred. Yet the warrant attributes the hate crime charge to “Delatoba’s attack on individuals based on their race, sex, and occupation,” apparently defining his verbal assault as a crime in and of itself.

Louisiana’s statute allows prosecutors to enhance punishments for other crimes if they were committed against a first responder because of that person’s occupation, adding employment as a cop to the list of protected classes under the state’s pre-existing hate crime law relating to victims’ gender, sexuality, race, religion, nationality, or age.

Most states, including Louisiana, already impose stiffer penalties for physical attacks against peace officers. The novelty of the Louisiana law, beyond its rhetorical goading of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement to reform police practices nationwide, lies in defining any crime against police as a hate crime.

Hate crime legislation is a relatively modern invention. The first state laws cropped up in the 1980s, and the concept hit the federal books in 2009 after the brutal high-profile murders of Matthew Shepard in Wyoming and James Byrd, Jr. in Texas added momentum to the idea.

Incorporating any professional class into a body of law designed to protect traits like race and sexuality makes little sense. Loyola University New Orleans College of Law professor Dane Ciolino has called the bill “showboating for the constituents.” The ADL itself dislikes the laws, arguing hate crimes “should remain limited to immutable characteristics, those qualities that can or should not be changed.”

Laws styled after the Louisiana initiative would allow prosecutors to tack on thousands of dollars in fines and five extra years of prison time in cases that trigger the protections for police, firefighters, and EMS workers.

The arrest warrant does not mean Delatoba will necessarily be charged under the Blue Lives Matter statute. Prosecutors will decide whether or not to act on the police department’s recommendations. But the case appears to be the first time officers have invoked the law.

Activists seem the likeliest targets of the law. Police who break up street protests routinely charge demonstrators with resisting arrest and assaulting officers. Cops around the country also have a habit of using assault charges to cover up their own physical abuse of civilians.

Passed in May, the Louisiana measure appeared to be an effort to troll protesters from the Movement for Black Lives by picking up their “black lives matter” rallying cry. Since then, murderous ambushes of officers who were escorting peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters in Dallas and of patrol officers in Baton Rouge have given the idea a sharper edge. Similar measures are up for consideration in New York, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Florida, and even Congress.

Many politicians, media figures, and voters are convinced that cops face not just the day-to-day dangers of a life in law enforcement, but a concerted, conspiratorial “war on cops.” But police are far more likely to die in car crashes on duty than to be killed by an attacker. And overall killings of police have been declining steadily since the 1970s.