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Resisting Arrest and Blue Lives Matter

Opinion by Jarvis DeBerry of the Times-Picayune:

A person who attacked a police officer could already expect to suffer a harsher punishment than a person who attacked a civilian; however, in 2016 the Louisiana Legislature decided that the state needed a so-called Blue Lives Matter law.  That law adds law enforcement officers, firefighters and emergency medical personnel to the groups of people covered by the state’s hate-crime statute (NOLA.com).

There are some people who shrugged at the new law as a ridiculous redundancy. Why should we get exercised at the Legislature deciding to get tough on people who attack police when the state’s statutes are already plenty tough on people who attack police?

St. Martinville Police Chief Calder Hebert provides us with one answer.  Hebert said in an interview last week with a Lafayette television station that the law grants him permission to book people who resist arrest with committing a hate crime (NOLA.com).

“Resisting an officer or battery of a police officer was just that charge, simply,” Hebert told KATC. “But now, Governor Edwards, in the legislation, made it a hate crime now.”

John Bel Edwards didn’t write bill, but, as governor, he signed it into law.  And according to a spokesperson, he and the bill’s author aren’t on board with Hebert’s interpretation of the law (NOLA.com).

“Resisting arrest is not considered a hate crime under the legislation spearheaded by Rep. Lance Harris,” Carbo said in a statement. “The law clearly defines what is and is not a hate crime, and it appears that the police chief is inaccurate. Neither the bill’s author nor the governor agrees with his assessment” (NOLA.com).

That clarification is helpful, but it’s another reminder that Edwards should never have signed the bill into law. He did so over the objections of the Anti-Defamation League and everybody else who could see that bad arrests would follow (NOLA.com).

The New Orleans Police Department wrongly accused a man of an anti-police hate crime in September. Raul Delatoba, accused by a security guard of damaging a window at the Royal Sonesta Hotel was appropriately booked with criminal damage to property and disturbing the peace.  But then, as if excitedly unwrapping a new toy under the Christmas tree, New Orleans police decided to try out the 35-day-old amended hate-crime statute on Delatoba (NOLA.com).

Delatoba reportedly called a woman police officer a “dumb a— c—” and called another officer a “dumb a–  n—–.”  The police wrote on Delatoba’s arrest warrant that “The hate crime charge stems from Delatoba’s attack on individuals based on their race, sex, and occupation.”

There was no attack.  Delatoba used racist and sexist language, the kind of language those officers must have been hearing all their careers.  But all of a sudden they deemed it a hate crime (NOLA.com).

A spokesman for the New Orleans Police Department quickly acknowledged that the new statue was wrongly applied to Delatoba’s case; and the district attorney refused the charge. But neither of those decisions gets to the root of the problem, the very existence of the law, a law the St. Martinville police chief is applying – however wrongly – to people resisting arrest.  I say he’s applying it wrongly because the law makes no mention of resisting arrest. It reads:

“It shall be unlawful for any person to select the victim of the following 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, firefighter, or emergency medical services personnel: first or second degree murder; manslaughter; battery; aggravated battery; second degree battery; aggravated assault with a firearm; terrorizing; mingling harmful substances; simple or third degree rape, forcible or second degree rape, or aggravated or first degree rape; sexual battery, second degree sexual battery; oral sexual battery; carnal knowledge of a juvenile; indecent behavior with juveniles; molestation of a juvenile or a person with a physical or mental disability; simple, second degree, or aggravated kidnapping; simple or aggravated arson; communicating of false information of planned arson; simple or aggravated criminal damage to property; contamination of water supplies; simple or aggravated burglary; criminal trespass; simple, first degree, or armed robbery; purse snatching; extortion; theft; desecration of graves; institutional vandalism; or assault by drive-by shooting” (NOLA.com).

Hebert did not return a call requesting comment, but we can assume he’s thinking of those battery offenses as crimes that could be seen as resisting arrest if they’re committed against a police officer.  But just as the law recognizes a difference between, say, a white person hurting a black person in the course of a robbery and a Klansman hurting a black person for the sport of it, our new law should also recognize a difference between a person resisting arrest and a person setting out to hurt a cop (NOLA.com).

Maybe you think it shouldn’t matter what’s in a person’s heart.  I feel the same way.  I think it’s generally a bad idea to base a people’s punishment based on speculation about hatred they were feeling when they committed their crimes.  But that is what hate-crime statutes do: punish people for criminally acting out their bigoted beliefs.  We don’t know what people who resist the police believe. All we know is they don’t want to be arrested (NOLA.com).

As he praised the law, Chief Hebert told KATC, “Hopefully, the rest of the nation follows suit.”  Surely, some states will follow suit. Not because such laws are needed but because bad ideas are catching (NOLA.com).

Jarvis DeBerry is deputy opinions editor at NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune. He can be reached at jdeberry@nola.com. Follow him at twitter.com/jarvisdeberry.

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