Controversial Louisiana Law Makes Targeting Police a Hate Crime

By Ephrat Livni, Esq. on May 27, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A new law in Louisiana makes it a hate crime to target law enforcement and emergency personnel. The bill making these professions a protected class -- dubbed Blue Lives Matter -- was reportedly proposed in response to the Black Lives Matter movement criticizing police brutality in the black community. It is the first of its kind in the country.

Hate crime legislation makes punishments more severe when crimes target a protected class, such as age, race, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, or disability. Critics say that adding law enforcement to this list of protected classes dilutes the value of this type of legislation by basing it on a mutable or changing characteristic, such as a profession, rather than an unchangeable one like race or national origin.

Protecting Blue Lives

According to NPR, crime statistics show an overall decline in officer killings. Still, the Louisiana law making police, firefighters, emergency medical crews, and other first responders a protected class reportedly passed easily. Anyone convicted of intentionally targeting someone in this protected class will be punished more severely than previously based on the now-protected status.

"Coming from a family of law enforcement officers," Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said in a statement. announcing the signing of the bill into law, "I have great respect for the work that they do and the risks they take to ensure our safety."

State Police Superintendent Colonel Mike Edmonson expressed his support of the law, too, pointing out the heroism of law enforcement and first responders who run toward trouble when others are running away. Edmonds said, "For those individuals who choose to target our heroes, the message formalized in this legislative act should be clear and the consequences severe. On behalf of first responders throughout Louisiana, we thank the legislature and the governor for helping to make this law a reality."

Diluting Hate Crime Legislation?

Critics say, however, that this legislation dilutes hate crime laws by enlarging the protected class to include people who are not targeted for what they are but for what they do for a living. The Anti-Defamation League, for example, opposed the legislation and explained the basis for its opposition to what it called the "Blue Lives Matter" bill before it was signed into law.

In a statement issued earlier this month, it wrote, "The ADL strongly believes that the list of personal characteristics included in hate crimes laws should remain limited to immutable characteristics, those qualities that can or should not be changed. Working in a profession is not a personal characteristic, and it is not immutable ...This bill confuses the purpose of the Hate Crimes Act and weakens its impact by adding more categories of people, who are better protected under other laws."

There is something to that argument. After all, people can choose to be blue. But there is little choice about being foreign or black or having a handicap or any of the more traditional protected classes.


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