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Another state has passed reactionary legislation that makes it a hate crime to assault a police officer. This worrisome trend not only has serious repercussions that go against someone’s civil liberties but also grossly misunderstands how hate crimes actually work.
The state legislature in Texas recently passed a bill that made it a hate crime to attack a police officer or other first responder. Governor Greg Abbott signed the law on June 6, making Texas one of a handful of states to have passed so-called “Blue Lives Matter” laws since Louisiana paved the way in 2016. Like others, Texas’ version drastically increases the penalties that someone can face for assaulting or for even threatening a police officer. Under the new law, doing so would be a felony in the state, and can lead to life in jail if it results in serious bodily injury.
Numerous other states, including Maine, are considering similar laws.
The popularity of these laws has swept the nation in the past year, largely since the Dallas shooting, which left a pair of uniformed police officers dead. States – especially conservative states who favor “hard on crime” tactics – have raced to be the first to pass laws protecting law enforcement officers. Unfortunately, these emotional races to enact these laws perverts the meaning of what a hate crime means, and will only increase the animosity that the public has against the police.
Hate crime legislation is meant to protect people for the parts that they cannot change about themselves, like their race, nationality, or sexual orientation, or for the parts that they should never be forced to change, like their religion. Hate crime laws protect these people by increasing the penalties others can face for attacking them, effectively deterring others from committing a hate crime.
These Blue Lives Matter laws, though, protect people for their profession, which is something completely within their power to change. This expansion of hate crimes to include the profession of law enforcement is an abuse of the idea of protecting the immutable characteristics of the vulnerable or the unpopular.
Worse, these Blue Lives Matter laws will only make the tension between the public and the police even more strained. They will especially impact how police handle protesters and other dissenters – police already regularly claim that a protester’s slightest resistance amounts to an assault on their body. If even touching a cop amounts to a hate crime, it will make it nearly impossible for anyone to exercise their First Amendment rights.
Police officers have a risky job, but it is the one that they signed up for. If they wanted to avoid the risks of being a cop, they could simply hand in their badge. Hate crimes are meant to protect the people who are vulnerable or unpopular, but who can’t or should never be forced to put that trait on a badge to hand in – Muslims, immigrants, gays, or people of color.
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