“Blue Lives Matter” Laws: The Extension of Hate Crime Statutes to Include Law Enforcement

“Blue Lives Matter” Laws: The Extension of Hate Crime Statutes to Include Law Enforcement

Spencer K. Gray, KLJ Online Content Editor[1]

Effective August 1, 2016, Louisiana’s statute regulating hate crimes was amended to include crimes that were committed against a victim “because of actual or perceived employment as a law enforcement officer, firefighter, or emergency medical services personnel.”[2]  The Louisiana hate crime statute as amended increases the penalty associated with the commission of specific underlying offenses when the victim of those offenses is selected because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, nationality, age, or based upon their actual or perceived employment as law enforcement personnel or other emergency response staff.[3] Because Louisiana’s hate crime law extends protections that have been traditionally been reserved to subsets of the population based on immutable characteristics, such as race and sexual orientation, the law has met substantial opposition.[4]

House Bill No. 953 (The “Blue Lives Matter” Law) was first introduced to the Louisiana House of Representatives on March 4, 2016, and was signed into law by the Governor just over two months later on May 26, 2016.[5] The Bill moved rapidly through the state legislature and faced little opposition, passing the Senate vote by a margin of thirty-three yeas to three nays, and the House of Representatives by a margin of ninety-one yeas to zero nays.[6] While Louisiana’s amendment to the hate crime statute certainly was groundbreaking, legislators in several other states have already proposed similar legislation in their respective states.[7] It is yet to be seen exactly how pervasive the political support for such an amendment is, but Louisiana’s law and the subsequent proposed bills do raise the question: Should hate crime protections be extended to police officers and other first responders?

Although Louisiana House Bill No. 953 faced very little legislative opposition, public concern for the law and for other bills like it is widespread. Some fear that extending hate crime protections to police officers will shift too much power to law enforcement in a system where the balance may already weigh heavily in favor of the police.[8] Others warn that while these laws may have noble intentions, they do not translate well into practical application.[9] For example, Police Chief Calder Hebert has warned that the law may lead to someone who resists arrest being charged with a hate crime.[10] It is notable that 37 states, including Louisiana, already include harsher penalties for harming police officers in their criminal sentencing schemes.[11] Representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union have challenged “Blue Lives Matter” laws on a more fundamental level, claiming that their proponents merely “pay lip service to protecting the police without actually doing so.”[12] Andrew Hoover, spokesperson of the ACLU in Pennsylvania, has expressed his concern that the “Blue Lives Matter Laws” not only fail to fit within the traditional purpose of hate crime statutes, but also may shift the focus of hate crime protection away from sub-sets of the population who are more in need of protection such as the LGBT community.[13]

Some proponents of extending hate crime protections to police officers point to the increase in violence against police officers as justification for the legislation.[14] Whether violence towards police officers actually is increasing is not entirely clear.[15] Others in favor of the legislation argue that the dangerous nature of law enforcement employment and the sacrifices made by the officers in the line of duty warrant the legislation.[16] Police Chief Steven Stinsky argues that the legislation is needed because the present climate surrounding law enforcement has led to a decrease in applicants for police employment, and that increased protection will help attract the best candidates.[17] It is notable that while Louisiana is the first state to extend hate crime protection to law enforcement, other states preceded it in extending protections beyond immutable characteristics. A few examples of characteristics involving choice that are protected under hate crime statutes are: service in the U.S. Armed Forces;[18] involvement in civil rights or human rights activities;[19] matriculation;[20] and homelessness.[21]

The ultimate purpose of hate crime legislation should be to balance the injustice caused due to the “greater harm that is inflicted upon society when criminal acts are committed because of bigoted beliefs.”[22] Perpetrators of hate crimes cause perverse effects on their victims including emotional and physical distress, loss of self-esteem, and an inner turmoil that deters the victim from engaging in society.[23] Not only do hate crimes have a particularly drastic effect upon their immediate victim, but hate crimes also “may effectively intimidate other members of the victim’s community, leaving them feeling isolated, vulnerable and unprotected by the law.”[24] Thus, hate crimes carry with them the risk of damaging “the fabric of our society” and leading to fragmented communities.[25]

Should hate crime protections be extended to police officers and other first responders? Are police officers a sub-set of society that is in danger of being isolated, intimidated, or feeling vulnerable and unprotected by the law? Does the dangerous nature of a policeman’s job warrant hate crime protection, or should these protections be reserved for immutable characteristics such as race and sexual orientation? These questions and others like them deserve serious contemplation before any state decides to pass such important legislation.

[1] J.D. expected May 2018.
[2] La. Stat. Ann. § 14:102.2 (2016).
[3] Id.
[4] See, e.g., Zakiya Summers, ACLU of MS Statement on Blue Lives Matter Legislation, American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi (Jan. 24, 2017), https://www.aclu-ms.org/news/2017/01/24/aclu-ms-statement-blue-lives-matter-legislation.
[5] Bill Info, 2016 Regular Session HB953 by Representative Lance Harris, https://www.legis.la.gov/legis/BillInfo.aspx?i=230171 (Last visited Feb. 23, 2017).
[6] Id.
[7]See, e.g., H.B. 14, 2017 Reg. Sess. (Ky. 2017); S.B. 2129, 132nd Leg., 2017 Reg. Sess. (Miss. 2017); S.B. 1383, 200th Gen. Assembly (Pa. 2016); S.B. 6, 11th Gen. Assembly (Tenn. 2017).
[8] Karen Shuey, Blue Lives Matter Bill Hardly Black and White, Reading Eagle (Feb. 23, 2017), https://www.bloomberglaw.com/p/0a553cf6a9606c5ef0d878d65392f9cd/e3108df5089ba755011016476a7c62b1/document/OLR2GWAIH8N4?headlineOnly=false.
[9] Julia Craven, Louisiana Police Chief Shows Why the State’s ‘Blue Lives Matter’ Law is So Dangerous, Huffington Post (Jan. 23, 2017), http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/blue-lives-matter-law-lousiana_us_588653dde4b0e3a7356ae3ae.
[10] Id.
[11]Karen Shuey, Blue Lives Matter Bill Hardly Black and White, Reading Eagle (Feb. 23, 2017), https://www.bloomberglaw.com/p/0a553cf6a9606c5ef0d878d65392f9cd/e3108df5089ba755011016476a7c62b1/document/OLR2GWAIH8N4?headlineOnly=false.
[12] Jimmie E. Gates, Miss. ‘Blue Lives Matter’ Bill: Targeting First Responders a Hate Crime, The Clarion Ledger (Jan. 24, 2017), http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2017/01/24/blue-lives-matter-bill-hate-crime/97018166/.
[13]Karen Shuey, Blue Lives Matter Bill Hardly Black and White, Reading Eagle (Feb. 23, 2017), https://www.bloomberglaw.com/p/0a553cf6a9606c5ef0d878d65392f9cd/e3108df5089ba755011016476a7c62b1/document/OLR2GWAIH8N4?headlineOnly=false (“Hate Crime laws were created in response to crimes against particular people that were not historically prosecuted like the lynching of black people. The historical record is completely absent of crimes against police officers not being prosecuted.”); see also Kevin Conlon, Louisiana Governor Signs ‘Blue Lives Matter’ Bill, CNN (May 27, 2016) http://www.cnn.com/2016/05/26/us/louisiana-blue-lives-matter-law/ (“Working in a profession is not a personal characteristic, and it is not immutable…[expanding hate crime statutes beyond immutable characteristics] weakens the impact of the Hate Crimes Act by adding more categories of people who are already better protected under other laws.”) (quoting Allison Padilla-Goodman).
[14] See Kathryn Casteel, Would Trump’s ‘Blue Lives Matter’ Effort Really Help Protect Police?, FiveThirtyEight (Feb. 22, 2017).
[15] See National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, Preliminary 2016 Law Enforcement Officer Fatalities Report, (Dec. 29, 2016), http://www.nleomf.org/assets/pdfs/reports/Preliminary-2016-EOY-Officer-Fatalities-Report.pdf; But see FBI, 2015 Law Enforcement Officers Killed & Assaulted. https://ucr.fbi.gov/leoka/2015/officers-assaulted/assaults_topic_page_-2015 (last visited Feb 23, 2017); FBI, Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted 1996 (1996), https://ucr.fbi.gov/leoka/1996.
[16] Karen Shuey, Blue Lives Matter Bill Hardly Black and White, Reading Eagle (Feb. 23, 2017), https://www.bloomberglaw.com/p/0a553cf6a9606c5ef0d878d65392f9cd/e3108df5089ba755011016476a7c62b1/document/OLR2GWAIH8N4?headlineOnly=false.
[17] Id.
[18] Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 13, § 1455 (West 2014).
[19] Mont. Code Ann. § 45-5-221 (West 2009).
[20] D.C. Code Ann. § 22-3701 (West 2009).
[21] Fla. Stat. Ann. § 775.085 (West 2016).
[22] The Staff of the Syracuse Journal of Legislation & Policy, Crimes Motivated by Hatred: The Constituionality and Impact of Hate Crime Legislation in the United States. 1 Syracuse J. Legis. & Pol’y 29, 32 (1995).
[23]  Mari J. Matsuda, Public Response to Racist Speech: Considering the Victim’s Story, 87 Mich. L. Rev. 2320, 2336­–37 (1989).
[24]Hate Crime Laws, Anti-Defamation League (2012) http://www.adl.org/assets/pdf/combating-hate/Hate-Crimes-Law.pdf.
[25] Id.

*Featured image by Quinn Dombrowski, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.