Traditionally, hate crime laws in the U.S. protect victims attacked for fixed or perceived traits, including race, religion, color, gender, and sexual orientation. But some Louisiana lawmakers want their state to become the first to officially expand its hate crime law to protect police as well.
Facing no opposition, a Louisiana House committee advanced a “Blue Lives Matter” bill Wednesday, to increase the penalty for attacking current or retired law enforcement officers, as well as firefighters and emergency medical practitioners.
Speaking before a state House committee, Rep. Lance Harris argued that police were under attack. He cited widely-publicized examples of cops killed on duty, including the fatal shooting of two NYPD officers in 2014 during the Black Lives Matter protests over Eric Garner’s death. He also pointed to a Houston deputy killed at a gas station last year, whom local officials asserted was targeted because of his job, despite no evidence of his motivation.
The explosion of the Black Lives Matter movement and its discussion of racist policing ignited a media firestorm suggesting the activists had inspired a slew of police officer killings. Activists have repeatedly explained that the movement is not anti-police, but a reaction to a historical reality that African Americans are systematically targeted and discriminated against by law enforcement.
There’s also no evidence to support the idea that there’s a war on cops. Data shows that the number of police officer deaths is actually on the decline. A 2014 report from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF) found that the average number of killings of police has been dropping since 1973 and reached a record lows in 2013. The number of firearm killings increased slightly in 2014 and 2015, but were still below the decade average.
Some of the cases held up by the media as examples of anti-police sentiment turned out to be police who actually shot themselves. A manhunt for the alleged killer of an Illinois officer lasted weeks before law enforcement realized he committed “a carefully-staged suicide” out of fear that his longtime corruption was about to be unmasked. Before admitting to the mistake, police claimed Lt. Joseph Gliniewicz was shot and killed during a foot chase. Another officer triggered another manhunt in Massachusetts, claiming that someone had shot at him in his squad car. Investigators later determined he shot his own car.
Nevertheless, law enforcement, conservatives, and media pundits frequently seize on cop killings to scapegoat minorities. Presidential candidate Ted Cruz (R-TX) went so far as to say Black Lives Matter protesters are “literally suggesting and embracing and celebrating the murder of police officers.”
The media fixation on cop killings has inspired similar calls for making police a protected class. Last year, the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) president called on law enforcement to give cops hate crime protections. “Our members are increasingly under fire by individuals motivated by nothing more than a desire to kill or injure a cop. Enough is enough!” he wrote in an FOP statement, pointing to incidents in Philadelphia and Dallas.
No state has yet extended hate crime protections to officers, but a lawmaker in Maryland introduced a similar bill in February. A federal Blue Lives Matter bill was also introduced by a Colorado representative in March.
Many states, including Louisiana, already have laws that enhance penalties for crimes committed against an officer. Even failed attempts to kill an officer in Louisiana can land someone in prison for at least twenty years, “without benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence.” Attempting to steal from a cop results in a year of jail time and thousands of dollars in fines.
By expanding the hate crime protections to police and other first responders, an extra five years of prison time and $5000 of fines could be added to a perpetrator’s sentence.
The bill, if passed, could also create a legal quagmire. A representative of the Anti-Defamation League told the Advocate that hate crimes laws are meant to protect people for “immutable characteristics.” “Proving the bias intent for a hate crime for law enforcement or first responders is very different than proving it for someone who is Jewish or gay or black,” she said.
The first of its kind bill was officially signed into law by Gov. John Bel Edwards on Thursday afternoon. “The men and women who put their lives on the line every day, often under very dangerous circumstances are true heroes and they deserve every protection that we can give them,” he said.