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Thursday, May 26, 2016

Louisiana's hate crime law, which already includes police, now includes police. Again.

Posted By on Thu, May 26, 2016 at 6:05 PM

click to enlarge CHERYL GERBER
The first-ever "Blue Lives Matter" bill just became law. Louisiana was the first state to push and successfully sign into law a measure adding first responders (police officers, EMS and firefighters) as a protected class under the state's hate crime law. Gov. John Bel Edwards signed the measure from state Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, today.

The state's hate crime laws strengthen penalties for criminal offenses targeting a person or group's "actual or perceived race, age, gender, religion, color, creed, disability, sexual orientation, national origin, or ancestry of that person or the owner or occupant of that property or because of actual or perceived membership or service in, or employment with, an organization." In the state's definition, "organization" also means "any entity or unit of federal, state, or local government" — which covers police officers. 

But Harris' bill adds "actual or perceived employment as a law enforcement officer or firefighter" as a discrimination classification, doubling down on the law that's already in place with a more explicit amendment. Assaulting a police officer also already carries stiffer penalties. People convicted of felony hate crime in Louisiana face up to an additional five years of jailtime.

So why did the legislature unanimously agree to add more to that? The measure follows a growing backlash against law enforcement in the wake of high-profile deaths of unarmed black men and the Black Lives Matter movement. Hate crime laws, meant to further protect disproportionately impacted victims of crime, always have included the people meant to do the protecting. Harris' bill adds a more obvious line to explicitly include law enforcement, while supporters rallied around a slogan borrowing Black Lives Matter language.

The New Orleans chapter of the Black Youth Project and the Anti-Defamation League  have asked Edwards to veto it.

It won approval in the House on April 28 and passed the state Senate on May 17 (while, coincidentally, several people on a panel in New Orleans defended the Reconstruction-era Battle of Liberty Place, an uprising against the city's integrated police).

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