Law enforcement personnel in Louisiana are about to be designated a protected class under hate-crime law, according to a new bill that just passed the state’s two legislative bodies with near unanimous approval from lawmakers, and which Governor John Bel Edwards is now expected to sign, according to the Washington Post. The legislation, referred to as the “Blue Lives Matter” bill, would make it a crime to target someone “because of actual or perceived employment as a law enforcement officer, firefighter, or emergency medical services personnel,” punishable with up to five additional years in prison or a maximum fine of $5,000 (for a felony offense). At present, Louisiana already protects minorities from hate crime attacks on the basis of their race, gender, sexual orientation, and religion, but not their chosen occupation.
“Blue Lives Matter” activism has emerged as a response to the Black Lives Matter movement, and asserts that, as the criticism of, and outrage over police-related deaths, excessive force, and racial profiling has become more mainstream, police officers face increasing levels of discrimination and violence — though as the Post notes, so far evidence of any such rise seems inconclusive at best, and an FBI report that came last week indicated that cops are actually now, on average, safer than they’ve been in decades. Nonetheless, proponents of Louisiana HB 953 point to instances in which first responders have been targeted, especially a case in which a sheriff’s deputy was randomly executed at a Houston gas station last fall, leading to national outcry from the law enforcement community linking the crime to rhetoric coming from activists like the Black Lives Matter movement (though it’s worth noting that the assailant in that case turned out to have a history of mental illness and a few months ago was found incompetent to stand trial for the crime).
Critics of the Louisiana bill include the Anti-Defamation League, which is one of the leading advocates in the country for hate crime legislation. According to CNN, the ADL’s regional director, Allison Padilla-Goodman, argued in a press release that the new bill “confuses the purpose of the Hate Crimes Act and weakens its impact by adding more categories of people, who are already better protected under other laws,” also noting that ”proving the bias intent is very different for these categories than it is for the bias intent of a crime against a law enforcement officer.” Padilla-Goodwin has additionally pointed out to the Advocate that Louisiana law already provides the option of extra punishment for crimes that target police, as do 36 other states.
Elsewhere, the New Orleans chapter of the Black Youth Project 100, which works to raise awareness about police brutality, has also rejected the potential law, highlighting how few police officers are killed each year in comparison to the number of people killed by police violence, and arguing that “we cannot allow the gains of the civil rights movement to be squandered away by police officers scrambling to avoid criticism from their constituents.” They call the bill “an insidious attempt to destabilize our First Amendment rights as community members who hold the police, and others sworn by oath to serve and protect, accountable,” adding that “Including ‘police’ as a protected class in hate crime legislation would serve to provide more protection to an institution that is statistically proven to be racist in action, policy, and impact.”
A similar bill has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives, by Colorado Republican Ken Buck, which proposes adding law enforcement personnel to the federal hate crime statute, but it has not yet been scheduled for a vote.