Louisiana Rep. Lance Harris.
For many, “hate crime” means an act of violence perpetrated against a member of a minority group. But what about targeting someone because they serve and protect?
Now, in the era of the “blue lives matter” response to the “black lives matter” movement, some legislators in Louisiana are trying to answer that question. A committee in the state’s house of representatives has advanced a bill that classifies offenses committed against cops and firefighters as hate crimes.
“We have a pretty extensive hate crime law right now, but I believe we should add firefighters and policemen,” Rep. Lance Harris (R-Alexandria), who supports the bill, said, as the Advocate noted.
The proposed language of HB 953 intended to protect police and firefighters would be added to existing hate-crime legislation, which lets those convicted of felonies against protected groups be sentenced to up to five extra years in prison. See the changes in italics: “It shall be unlawful for any person to select the victim of the following 10 offenses against person and property because of actual or perceived race, age, gender, religion, color, creed, disability, sexual orientation, national origin, or ancestry of that person or the owner or occupant of that property or because of actual or perceived membership or service in, or employment with, an organization, or because of actual or perceived employment as a law enforcement officer or firefighter.”
Some think the change is necessary in the post-Ferguson era, when police arguably face extra dangers.
“You never know if he’s coming home,” Louisiana resident Dionna Nelson, the daughter of a police officer, told KLFY. “His life was always on the line. There’s just too many police officers being killed, and firefighters and first responders being killed in the line of duty. There’s just no sense for it.”
But others questioned whether the law was necessary, especially since Louisiana law allows those convicted of certain crimes against “peace officers” to be punished more harshly. The liberal organization Think Progress, saying there’s “no evidence to support the idea that there’s a war on cops,” criticized the bill.
“Some of the cases held up by the media as examples of anti-police sentiment turned out to be police who actually shot themselves,” Carimah Townes wrote on the website, citing the example of an Illinois officer who tried to cover-up his own suicide. ” … Nevertheless, law enforcement, conservatives, and media pundits frequently seize on cop killings to scapegoat minorities.”
A representative of a branch of the Anti-Defamation League in Louisiana said the term “hate crime” should not be used willy-nilly.
“It’s really focused on immutable characteristics,” Allison Goodman, a regional director for the ADL, told the Advocate. “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.” Noting that Maine includes the homeless in its hate crime law, she said: “We don’t think that’s a category that should be included because people move in and out of being homeless. … The same would be said for law enforcement.”
Rep. Harris, meanwhile, cited the infamous case of two police officers assassinated in Brooklyn in 2014, among other examples, showed extra protection was warranted.
“For no reason, shots were fired at these firefighters because they were public servants,” he said.
“Despite the risk, our law enforcement officers put on their uniform every day so that they can serve our communities,” Rep Ken Buck (R-Colo.), who sponsored the bill, said at the time. “Whether based on skin color or uniform color, a crime motivated by hate is not going to be tolerated in America. By adding law enforcement to the federal hate crime statute, we can protect those who protect us.”
Others reject the “Blue lives matter” slogan.
“Blue Lives Matter is a racially charged reaction to Black Lives Matter,” Monica Weymouth wrote in Philadelphia Magazine in 2014. “It is an inflammatory slogan that occupies that strange, uncomfortable space between threatened and threatening.”