Louisiana could be the first state where targeting police is a hate crime
Elahe Izadi of The Washington Post reports that Louisiana may become the first state in the nation where attacking a police officer can be classified as a hate crime.
In many states, extra punishment is meted out to those who commit crimes against others because of their race or religion. Such hate-crime laws elevate the heinousness of crimes in which people are targeted because of their identity, their belonging to a group (NOLA.com).
While hate-crime laws often refer to ethnicity or disability or gender, Louisiana is about to do something different. The state is poised to become the first in the nation where public-safety personnel will be a protected class under hate-crime law – a move that comes amid a simmering national debate about police shootings and whether that debate has given rise to an anti-law-enforcement climate (NOLA.com).
The Louisiana legislation has been referred to as “Blue Lives Matter” – a phrase popularized in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, which exploded following the fatal 2014 police shooting of an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Mo. Black Lives Matter activists have protested what they deem as excessive force by police, and they have called attention to specific instances in which police shot unarmed civilians. But those who respond with “Blue Lives Matter” argue it’s officers who are under assault – that criticism of police fosters animosity toward law enforcement (NOLA.com).
Louisiana House Bill 953 faced little opposition from lawmakers; the House passed it 91 -0, and the state Senate approved it 33-3. The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) (NOLA.com).
Some states have floated proposals similar to the Louisiana legislation, and a bill proposed in Congress would amend federal hate-crime law to include officers as a protected class (NOLA.com).
“Talking heads on television and inflammatory rhetoric on social media are inciting acts of hatred and violence toward our nation’s peace officers,” Chuck Canterbury, national president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said in a statement. “Our members are increasingly under fire by individuals motivated by nothing more than a desire to kill or injure a cop” (NOLA.com).
“Police officers and firefighters often perform life-saving acts of heroism, oftentimes under very dangerous circumstances, and are integral in maintaining order and civility in our society,” Edwards said in a statement. “The members of the law enforcement community deserve these protections, and I look forward to signing this bill into law” (NOLA.com).
The regional director of the Anti-Defamation League said it’s not wise to add occupations to hate-crime protected classes. “It’s really focused on immutable characteristics,” Allison Goodman 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” (NOLA.com).
The change to Louisiana law would mean those convicted of committing felony hate crimes against police officers could face a maximum fine of $5,000 or five-year prison sentence. A hate-crime charge added to a misdemeanor carries a $500 fine or six months imprisonment (NOLA.com).
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