Kentucky joined Louisiana this week after Gov. Matt Bevin (R) signed a “Blue Lives Matter” law that would give hate crime protections to police and emergency responders.
The bill, set to go into effect July 1, adds emergency responders and police to a hate crime designation lawmakers originally created to protect people targeted because of their race, ethnicity, religion, and sexual orientation.
The law defines hate crimes to include offenses committed against a person because of their “actual or perceived employment as a city, county, state, or federal peace officer, member of an organized fire department” or emergency medical services personnel.
Chanelle Helm, an organizer with Louisville’s Black Lives Matter chapter, panned the Republican push to give hate crime protection to police in an interview with WFPL.
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“They hate us so much that they need hate crime protection. So underneath this law now, they get hate crime protection as if anybody’s out here targeting them,” Helm said.
The GOP-backed HB 14 would allow judges and parole boards more discretion during sentencing or denying parole, the local NPR affiliate, WFPL, reported.
Primary sponsor and state Rep. Kevin D. Bratcher (R-Louisville) pre-filed the legislation, not long after Louisiana Republicans passed a similar measure opponents called ahistorical and redundant. The Kentucky bill garnered support from four Democrats in the state’s GOP-majority house.
Evidence shows violence against police remains at an all-time low.
While the number of officers fatally shot while on duty has declined nationwide in recent years, the overall number of deaths increased only because of traffic accidents, intentional car collisions, and job-related illnesses—not hate crimes or fatal shootings, according to data from the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund’s 2015 law enforcement fatalities.
Violence against police has declined steadily at least since the Reagan administration, according to data from the Officers Down Memorial Page and the Washington Post. An average of 101 police officers were killed every year during President Reagan’s time in the White House. That number fell to an average of 62 deaths per year under the Obama administration.
The number of officers killed declined by 34 percent between 1987 and 2013, while the number of full-time police officers working in local jurisdictions swelled by 35 percent during the same period, FiveThirtyEight.com reported.
The Louisiana law, signed by Gov. John Bel Edwards (D), made the state the first to designate public safety workers a protected group under hate-crime law, the National Conference of State Legislatures reported.
Louisiana state Rep. Lance Harris (R) cited the death of Houston Deputy Sheriff Darren Goforth when speaking about his inspiration behind the bill, USA Today reported.
Legislators in other states, including Mississippi and Wisconsin, have introduced similar “Blue Lives Matter” or “Blue, Red and Med Lives Matter,” bills, which misappropriate the verbiage used by the Black Lives Matter movement.
Amber Duke, spokesperson for the ACLU of Kentucky, told Rewire in an email that the advocacy organization had opposed HB 14 in some form since the measure surfaced last year. ACLU officials testified last year against the bill in a house committee meeting, saying the legislation would give “platitudes to safety” and weaken hate crime protections.
“The bill misunderstands the very purpose of hate crimes—to protect communities that have been marginalized within our society and who are at a higher risk of facing violence simply because of an immutable characteristic they share,” the ACLU of Kentucky statement said.
Kate Miller, advocacy director at the ACLU of Kentucky, noted that Kentucky law already provided enhanced penalties to people who acted violently against cops and other first responders.
HB 14, Miller said, also failed to encourage deeper conversations or require preventive measures such as required training for officers to learn how to avoid dangerous encounters and “de-escalate potentially violent situations.”
Already, states with so-called Blue Lives Matter legislation have begun to charge activists against police brutality with hate crimes for protesting, she said.
The ACLU of Kentucky this month asked Bevin to veto the measure in a letter publicized by USA Today. The Leadership Council and NAACP Legal Defense Fund also wrote letters to Kentucky politicians, urging them oppose or veto HB 14.
Todd A. Cox, policy director at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, called the bill “a particularly disconnected and non-responsive policy choice,” in a letter to state Sen. Whitney Westerfield (R-Hopkinsville).
Bratcher and two spokespeople for Bevin did not respond to a request for comment.