Louisiana became the first state in the country to add police officers to its hate crimes law yesterday when its governor signed a so-called "Blue Lives Matter" bill.
Under the new law, crimes against law enforcement officers can be prosecuted as hate crimes, just like crimes that target someone because of their race or religion. The law also covers firefighters and emergency responders.
According to the law's backers, it's necessary to protect officers against a wave of crimes targeting them. “Coming from a family of law enforcement officers, I have great respect for the work that they do and the risks they take to ensure our safety,” Governor John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, said in a statement after signing the bill. "There is a concerted effort in some areas to terrorize and attack police and I think this will go forward and stop that," State Representative Lance Harris, the bill's sponsor, told CNN.
But the statistics don't exactly back that up. As Jamil Smith noted yesterday in MTV News, 41 officers around the country were killed in the line of duty last year while almost 1000 people were killed by police. "Relatively speaking, this may be one of the safest times to be an American law enforcement officer ever," Smith wrote.
The bill's critics say it's part of a broader nationwide spin campaign to distract attention from police brutality. The way the law was billed as "Blue Lives Matter" suggest that it's in opposition to the Black Lives Matter movement, supporting the (false) narrative that more scrutiny of police action is tied to violent attacks on officers.
“We have to stop this malicious trend before it starts—we cannot allow the gains of the civil rights movement to be squandered away by police officers scrambling to avoid criticism from their constituents,” Savannah Shange, a New Orleans organizer with Black Youth Project 100, said in a statement.
Crimes against officers in Louisiana are already considered more serious under existing law, which automatically treats murder of officers as first degree murder. If police attacks are now convicted as hate crimes, that would just add an additional five years onto a defendant's sentence. The Anti-Defamation League, which has come out against the bill, said it could be a slippery slope, by "diluting" hate crimes protection and opening the door to other categories such as someone's employment.
The law also raises the question of why legislators are classifying attacks on police as hate crimes while other truly marginalized groups like transgender people aren't protected. The state's hate crimes law currently covers crimes against people because of their "actual or perceived race, age, gender, religion, color, creed, disability, sexual orientation, national origin, or ancestry." But unlike other states' laws, it doesn't specifically include gender identity, even though transgender homicide rates in the country have reached historic highs. (Ironically, the same day the governor signed the police hate crimes bill, his state sued the Obama administration over its directive to allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice.)
Louisiana's new law may spur other states to follow suit. "Blue Lives Matter" bills have already been proposed in Maryland, New Mexico, and at the federal level in Congress. And Harris, the bill's author, told the New York Times that he's received calls from around the country.
Casey Tolan is a National News Reporter for Fusion based in New York City.