The state of Louisiana is set to become the first in the nation where public safety officers will be protected under a hate crime law.
State legislators last week approved the bill to expand Louisiana’s current hate crime statute to include first responders like police officers and firefighters as a protected class. The law already includes penalties for gender, religion, nationality and racially motivated crimes.
The new bill has been dubbed as “Blue Lives Matter” — a clear reference to the Black Lives Matter movement that came into being after the 2014 shooting death of Ferguson, Missouri teen Michael Brown by a police officer.
The motion, which came amid a broiling national debate about police shootings, is being deemed by many as an overreaction to the threats of attacks on law enforcement officers.
Black rights groups, who protest the excessive use of force by police, are pointing out the various instances in which law enforcement officers killed unarmed civilians.
“By treating the police as specialized citizens held above criticism and the laws they are charged to enforce, we lose our ability to exercise our First Amendment right,” the New Orleans chapter of Black Youth Project 100 said in a statement. “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.”
However, advocates of “Blue Lives Matter” argue the constant criticism of the police by minority groups has spawned ill-will toward cops and that law enforcement officers are really the ones under assault.
“Talking heads on television and inflammatory rhetoric on social media are inciting acts of hatred and violence toward our nation’s peace officers,” said National Fraternal Order of Police President Chuck Canterbury said in an official statement. “Our members are increasingly under fire by individuals motivated by nothing more than a desire to kill or injure a cop.”
No other states have included law enforcement officers under hate crime laws but around 37 states have enhanced penalties for attacking cops.
In some states, hurting a police officer can be an “aggravating factor” to an assault and battery charge while killing a police officer can qualify for the death penalty.
The new amendment would mean people guilty of hate crime against police could face a fine up to $5,000 or a prison sentence of five years.