Louisiana is set to become the first state in the nation to formally recognize the targeting of police officers and other law enforcement officials as a hate crime.
Governor John Bel Edwards will soon sign into law House Bill 953, which would expand the state’s hate crimes statute to add the targeting of police officers, firefighters and EMS personnel.
The first-term Democrat, who comes from a long line of law enforcement officials, said in a statement to NBC News:
“As the son and brother of a sheriff, I have the greatest respect for the men and women who put their lives on the line every day to serve and protect our communities, state and nation.
The members of the law enforcement community deserve these protections, and I look forward to signing this bill into law.”
More commonly referred to as the “Blue Lives Matter” bill, it will be the first of its kind nationwide when enacted. It was passed with overwhelming support in both the House and Senate.A detail view of the casket is seen following the funeral for Harris County Sheriff’s Deputy Darren Goforth at Second Baptist Church on September 4, 2015 in Houston, Texas. Image Credit: Aaron M. Sprecher/Getty Images
The soon-to-be law was the brainchild of state Rep. Lance Harris, who authored the bill after learning about the death of a Texas sheriff’s deputy while in uniform last summer.
Noting how broad the state’s existing law was, Harris told CNN:
“It looked like it was strictly done because someone didn’t like police officers, like a hate crime.
In the news, you see a lot of people terrorizing and threatening police officers on social media just due to the fact that they are policemen. Now, this (new law) protects police and first-responders under the hate-crime law.”
He added that the update is necessary because the crime it condemns is “done strictly out of hate for the officer and his uniform.”
Supporters of the bill argue that it sends a strong message about the importance of police officers in American society. Mike Stone, the president of the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association, told The (Lafayette) Advertiser that it:
“…makes a powerful statement to those of use in law enforcement, and it’s one that we appreciate.
My philosophy is all lives matter, but I hope people realize that those of us in law enforcement overwhelmingly want to protect those in our communities.”
Yet the bill’s opponents are just as vocal about their issues with it.
Mwende “FreeQuency” Katwiwa, a member of the New Orleans chapter of the Black Youth Project, (BYP 100) told NBC News:
“As the south goes, so goes the nation. This bill is an attempt to counter the very vocal, visible and effective tactics of the Black Lives Matter movement and paint the police in a more sympathetic public light when in reality, they are increasingly more violent and violence against them is actually decreasing.”
Data released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation last week found that crime against law enforcement officials decreased once again in 2015.Image Credit: Screenshot/NBCNews.com
A similar bill has been proposed in Congress; it is still in committee awaiting a vote.