News Human Rights

So-Called Blue Lives Matter Laws ‘Are Beyond Salt in the Wound’

Auditi Guha

This wave of legislation has been called dangerous by racial justice advocates who say these laws aim to attack rather than protect communities that police serve.

It is now a felony in Georgia to throw objects at or vomit on a police officer. You could face an increased mandatory minimum prison term if you assault a police or probation officer, firefighter, or emergency responder.

In Louisiana, it is now a hate crime to target police officers and first responders.

Arizona’s laws for assault against on-duty officers now includes off-duty officers who are not engaged in police activities.

A Rewire tally of the so-called Blue Lives Matter legislation nationwide indicates that at least 37 states have introduced legislation this year to increase penalties for offenses against law enforcement. Legislators in 22 states have pushed to designate certain offenses against law enforcement officers as hate crimes. Louisiana’s GOP-dominated legislature was the first to pass such hate crime laws, followed by Republican legislative majorities in Kentucky, Mississippi, and Texas.

Appreciate our work?

Rewire is a non-profit independent media publication. Your tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

DONATE NOW

From backlash against the Black Lives Matter movement fighting police killings of residents to protesters being criminalized, this wave of legislation has been called dangerous by racial justice advocates who say these laws aim to attack rather than protect communities that police serve, while extending protections for a group that already wields state powerand guns. 

“These attempts to afford excessive protections based on a particular job are beyond salt in the woundthey are coordinated steps towards disempowering dissent through deadly violence,” said Ashley Yates, an early on-the-ground organizer in Ferguson, Missouri.

The number of on-duty officers fatally shot has declined in recent years, and 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 Officers Memorial Fund’s 2016 law enforcement fatalities tally. Violence against police has declined at least since the Reagan administration, according to the Officers Down Memorial Page and the Washington Post. An average of 101 police officers were killed annually during the Reagan administration. That number fell to an average of 62 deaths per year during the Obama administration.

Patrol cop doesn’t rank as one of the country’s most dangerous jobs, according to an analysis from FiveThirtyEight. Pilots and truck drivers have higher death rates than law enforcement officers.

Even as data suggests that officers’ risk of being fatally shot on the job is decreasing, “Blue Lives Matter” rhetoric continues to gain momentum. Media outlets have reported that Minnesota officer Jeronimo Yanez—whom a grand jury cleared last week in the July 2016 shooting of Philando Castile—was wearing a “Police Lives Matter” bracelet during the shooting.

Chris Burbank, a former police chief and director of law enforcement engagement at the Center for Policing Equity, told Rewire he struggles with laws that put police in the same category as protected groups by race, gender, or gender identity because the historical oppression of protected groups has often been committed by members of law enforcement.

“And so it becomes very disingenuous looking from the public’s eye, because police officers [are seen as] the arm of oppression and have been for government throughout the history of our country,” he said.

These new bills must feel good for some legislators and law enforcement, “but feel good does not make good law,” he said.

It has been proven that neither incarceration nor the death penalty has served to deter acts of violence or lower crime in the United States, which leads the world in putting people behind bars. These new laws are not going to change the dynamic, he said.

There are already penalties and laws for harming a civilian or a police officer. Increasing the severity of these charges does not solve the problem. “We have not solved the racial divide, we have not solved the inequities that exist in our system for all people,” Burbank said.

He said he believes the energy in crafting these “Blue Lives Matter” laws would be put to better use to understand the underlying cause of the problem, and that is to address the core expectation we have of law enforcement.

Here is an overview of the bills and amendments passed in 14 states creating what policy analysts have called unnecessary police protections in response to law enforcement officers killing unarmed civilians, many of whom are people of color.

Arizona SB 1366A “Blue Lives Matter Law” that bolsters sentences for assaults against police officers, including off-duty officers.

Arkansas SB 20A law that increases sentences for aggravated assault, which has been expanded to include shooting at a law enforcement or correctional officer.

Georgia SB 160: A “Back the Badge Act” that sets a minimum imprisonment term for assault against a public safety officer, which includes correctional or probation officers, firefighters, and emergency responders. The measure makes it a felony to obstruct or restrict a law enforcement officer by throwing or projecting human or animal bodily fluids.

Kansas SB 112: A “Law Enforcement Protection Act” that increases penalties for crimes against law enforcement officers.

Kentucky HB 14: A law that designates attacks against law enforcement as a hate crime, or when the attack is motivated by race, color, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, or “because of the individual’s actual or perceived employment as a city, county, state, or federal peace officer, member of an organized fire department,” or “emergency medical services personnel.”

Mississippi HB 645: A “Blue, Red, and Med Lives Matter Act” to protect crimes committed because of “the victim’s actual or perceived employment as a law enforcement officer, firefighter, or emergency medical technician.” The law increases the penalty for associated misdemeanors or felonies.

Nevada AB 132: An act that revises the definition of “officer” to include certain civilian employees and volunteers of state, law enforcement, and fire-fighting agencies, and increases penalties for crimes of assault and battery against them.

Nevada SB 541: A law that increases the penalty for certain crimes committed against first responders, including peace officers, firefighters, or emergency medical providers, and sets imprisonment terms from one to 20 years.

North Dakota SB 2300: A law that makes it a class B felony for a person guilty of aggravated assault against “a peace officer or correctional institution employee acting in an official capacity.”

Tennessee HB 835/SB 1342: An act that increases the sentence for a violent offense against a uniformed law enforcement officer or uniformed member of the military or national guard when such officials are intentionally attacked because of their titles.

Texas HB 2908: An act to protect peace officers or judges who are targeted by making restrains a felony of the second degree and bodily injury a felony of the first degree.

West Virginia HB 3018: An act that protects correctional employees and makes assaults against them a felony.

Brie Shea contributed to this reporting.

Load More