By Ese Olumhense
More than 30 bills introduced in 14 states
Since Jan. 1, legislators in 14 states have introduced 32 bills that would extend hate crime protections to police officers and other members of law enforcement.
If passed, these proposals would let prosecutors seek further penalties for perpetrators of violent crime against law enforcement officials and, in some states, against fire department or emergency medical services personnel, groups that law enforcement supporters feel are also targeted.
“There have always been individuals in the United States with an inclination to perpetrate unprovoked attacks against police officers merely because they’re police officers, out of hatred,” Jim Pasco, senior adviser to the president of the Fraternal Order of the Police (FOP) told The Huffington Post. “And that type of violence, incidentally, is growing at exponential rates.”
Kentucky was the first state to introduce such a proposal, with HB 14 on Jan. 3 — the first business day of the year. In the eight weeks that followed, states including Missouri, Mississippi, Washington, and New York introduced similar bills.
Several states have filed multiple versions of the bills. Mississippi has filed 10; Maryland comes in second place with four such bills. Most have enjoyed bipartisan sponsorship from Democrats and Republicans.
How the ‘War on Cops’ started Blue Lives Matter
Known colloquially as “Blue Lives Matter” legislation, these bills would classify law enforcement officers as a protected group — like racial and religious minorities, LGBT persons, and others covered under hate or bias crime laws. The name was borrowed from Black Lives Matter, the movement that had been organizing national protests against police violence after the August 2014 police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
The Blue Lives Matter campaign was born after the murder of two New York City Police Department (NYPD) officers, Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, who were shot at point-blank range in December 2014. The out-of-state gunman, according to a post to his Instagram account, wanted revenge for the death of Eric Garner, who died after he was put in a chokehold by an NYPD officer in Staten Island earlier that year, a scene caught on tape.
Incensed, law enforcement leaders demanded hate crime protections to support officers on the front lines of what they dubbed the “War on Cops.”
“In the last few years, ambush attacks aimed to kill or injure law enforcement officers have risen dramatically,” Fraternal Order of Police National President Chuck Canterbury said in a January 2015 statement. “Nineteen percent of the fatalities by firearm suffered by law enforcement in 2014 were ambush attacks. Enough is enough!”
‘This is not the best way to accomplish that goal’
There were 15 Blue Lives Matter bills introduced in all of 2016, but only two months into 2017, there more than twice as many up for consideration, a sign that national pushback against violent crime committed against law enforcement is mounting.
Though they are introduced frequently, the bills are quite unsuccessful. Only one, Louisiana’s HB 953, has passed in two years. Most died by vote or at the end of state congressional sessions.
Some advocates, like Michael Lieberman of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) — which was part of the drafting of the nation’s first hate crime laws in the 1980s — have argued that the proposed laws fare so poorly because every state already has statutes in place that increase punishments for violence against law enforcement, and most don’t require proof of motive.
“It confuses the purpose of hate crimes,” Lieberman, a ADL lawyer told Time magazine in November. “It’s not that we don’t want them protected. We want enhanced penalties, but this is not the best way to accomplish that goal.”
Additionally, 2015 FBI data shows that police officers are safer than they have been in many years, undercutting the perceived “War on Cops.”