It's possible that any act of violence against a police officer could soon constitute a hate crime. Louisiana is considering a bill that would amend the state's hate crime law to include law enforcement officials, such as police officers and firefighters.
House Bill 953, which is being dubbed "Blue Lives Matter," passed the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday with no opposition and will now go before the Senate, according to The Times-Picayune. Once past that final vote, it will be up to Gov. John Bel Edwards to sign the bill into law or not.
According to the bill's new language:
It shall be unlawful for any person to select the victim of the following offenses against person and property because of 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, or because of actual or perceived employment as a law enforcement officer or firefighter.
The bill's language also states that police officers can be active or retired.
Rep. Lance Harris, (R-Alexandria) introduced the bill because of an August 2015 shooting in Houston that appeared to directly target a uniformed police officer. Deputy Darren Goforth was shot 15 times by a local resident while stopping to get gas. Sheriff Ron Hickman said, “Our assumption is that [Goforth] was a target because he wore a uniform," according to The Dallas Morning News.
Harris said about Louisiana's bill, “Due to what’s going on across the country in every region, I think it behooves us to include our law enforcement officers and first responders in the hate crime bill,” WGNO reported.
The National Fraternal Order of Police has repeatedly called for federal legislation designating violence against law officials as hate crimes. On Mar. 16, they seemed to achieve that goal because Rep. Kenneth Buck (Colorado) introduced the Blue Lives Matter Act into Congress.
“Despite the risk, our law enforcement officers put on their uniform every day so that they can serve our communities,” Buck stated in a press release. “Whether based on skin color or uniform color, a crime motivated by hate is not going to be tolerated in America. By adding law enforcement to the federal hate crime statute, we can protect those who protect us.”
Typically, hate crimes are meant to protect at-risk groups who face violence because of their race, religion, gender, or more. The severity of punishment for a hate crime depends upon whether the offense is a misdemeanor or a felony, but it would enhance the protections law enforcement already have.
Although Louisiana is the first state to introduce law officials into a hate crime bill, it could pave the way for other states to follow suit if it passes.