Louisiana on Thursday became the first state in the nation to include law enforcement officers as a protected class under hate-crime law, treating attacks on public safety workers the same as attacks motivated by race, religion, gender identity or sexual orientation.
The “Blue Lives Matter” bill was signed into law Thursday by Democratic Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards. The first-of-its-kind legislation establishes increased penalties under the state’s hate crimes law for attacks on police officers, firefighters and emergency medical personnel.
Anyone convicted of intentionally targeting public safety workers can now face an additional five years in prison and up to a $5,000 fine for felonies, and an additional $500 or up to six months in prison in misdemeanor cases.
“The men and women who put their lives on the line every day, often under very dangerous circumstances are true heroes and they deserve every protection that we can give them,” Edwards, the son of a sheriff and brother of a current sheriff, said in a statement. “They serve and protect our communities and our families. The overarching message is that hate crimes will not be tolerated in Louisiana.”
The law is referred to as Blue Lives Matter in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, which has protested the use of excessive force by police, including the spate of shootings of unarmed Black individuals in recent years. Supporters of the law say it is the police who are under assault, and criticism of law enforcement fuels the attacks against them.
“In the news, you see a lot of people terrorizing and threatening police officers on social media just due to the fact that they are policemen. Now, this (new law) protects police and first-responders under the hate-crime law,” said Republican State Rep. Lance Harris, who authored the bill.
While supporters point to increased hostility against law enforcement nationwide, FBI crime statistics actually show an overall decline in police officer killings.
Critics of the law say law enforcement officers already receive increased protections, and adding an occupation to hate-crime laws will only serve to dilute them.
“This idea that the police are under attack, well, all the statistics show that actually the opposite is true, and nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, police are actually even more protected. There’s been less violence against the police,” Ejike Obineme, of the New Orleans Chapter of the Black Youth Project 100, toldWWL-TV. “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.”
Meanwhile, the Anti-Defamation League, which has been at the forefront of anti-hate legislation, said expanding hate-crimes laws to include law enforcement is a mistake.
“We are not happy that it is being signed into law,” said ADL Regional Director Allison Padilla-Goodman in a statement. “The 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.”
The statement added: “The ADL strongly believes that the list of personal characteristics included in hate crimes laws should remain limited to immutable characteristics, those qualities that can or should not be changed. Working in a profession is not a personal characteristic, and it is not immutable. Expanding the characteristics included in bias crime laws may open the door to a myriad of other categories to be added and simultaneously dilute current hate crimes legislation.”
Similar Blue Lives Matter bills are being considered in other states, and one is under consideration in Congress.