Louisiana could be the first state to include police officers and firefighters in the group of minorities protected by hate crime laws.
HB 953 passed through a State House Committee on Wednesday, according to The Advocate. Currently, there are enhanced penalties for attacking a peace officer. If enacted, the Louisiana bill would increase the sentence for harming a law officer by up to five years in prison and $5,000 in fines if the crime is considered a felony, and up to six months in prison and $500 in fines for a misdemeanor.
Bill sponsor Representative Lance Harris said of the proposed amendment to the current law, “We have a pretty extensive hate crime law right now," and added, "but I believe we should add firefighters and policemen." In a Facebook posted he wrote, "There have been serious crimes committed against our first responders. Unfortunately, many of these situations have ended in fatalities. Those who serve us, often in dangerous situations, deserve protections against violence."
Last month, Republican Representative Ken Buck introduced the Blue Lives Matter Act of 2016 to Congress. The act would make targeting a police officer a hate crime on a national level. Buck justified the bill by explaining, "I’ve seen over and over both police officers on the street and federal agents, jail deputies and bureau of prison officials being threatened by very dangerous people. I have a passion for trying to protect those who protect us. That’s what this bill is about.”
Critics say that police officers aren't at greater risk now than in the past. Some of the high-profile cases initially cited as crimes motivated by hate against police turned out to have been suicides. And Think Progress reports that police shootings have been trending down:
A 2014 report from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF) found that the average number of killings of police has been dropping since 1973 and reached a record lows in 2013. The number of firearm killings increased slightly in 2014 and 2015, but were still below the decade average.
Allison Goodman, a regional director for the Anti-Defamation League, told The Advocate that hate crime laws aren't designed to protect people by vocation. “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," she said. “It’s really focused on immutable characteristics."
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.