In the wake of yesterday’s acquittal of one of the police officers in Baltimore, Maryland involved in the slaying of Freddie Gray and the non-indictment of another officer in Austin, Texas who shot and killed an obviously unarmed teenager (he was naked), lawmakers in the state of Louisiana have decided to take the egregious step of making sure their state is the first in the nation where the up until this point unwritten rule of police supremacy is officially codified into law. With the passage of HB 953, aka the ‘Blue Lives Matter’ bill , police officers will be designated as a ‘protected class’ and any attack on a law enforcement officer, regardless of whether it’s an act of self-defense or not, can and likely will be prosecuted as a hate crime. In other words, attacking or defending oneself against a police officer will be legally akin to targeting and assaulting someone due to their actual or perceived race, nationality, religion or sexual orientation.
The reactionary slogan ‘blue lives matter’ is of course meant to mock the Black Lives Matter movement by replacing Black with the police uniform color of blue. Last year billboards began popping up across the country and across Louisiana in particular with the hashtag #bluelivesmatter in order to give the impression that somehow cop lives are under assault. The co-opting of the Black Lives Matter message by attempting to apply it instead to cops ignores the very reality that in the eyes of the law Black lives are most often treated as if they are worth less than others, whereas in the case of police officers their lives are always treated as if they in fact matter more than everyone else’s. This is not an exaggeration. Police officers who kill unarmed Black men, women and children are virtually never held to account. They are certainly not convicted on the very few occasions they are indicted; usually there’s not an indictment at all. On the other hand, anyone – and especially a Black person – who is accused of killing a police officer regardless of the circumstances is basically assured an automatic death penalty.
The author of the Fraternal Order of Police-backed bill, which passed unanimously in the House by a vote of 91-0, is Republican state legislator Rep. Lance Harris. According to Harris, “There is a concerted effort in some areas to terrorize and attack police”. He cited “social media attacks” as evidence. The numbers don’t support his contention however. As noted on the Huffington Post,
“rates of assault and deadly violence against police in the U.S. have actually declined. Only 41 police officers were intentionally killed while on duty in 2015… making it one of the safest years for police officers on record, according to preliminary statistics from the FBI.”
You will note that the FBI keeps meticulous records and stats on any sort of violent actions against police officers. The same cannot be said when it comes to tracking violence committed by police officers against civilians. That task had to be taken up first by alternative media outlets and later by the UK Guardian newspaper. For the record, the number of civilians who died at the hands of police in 2015 was around 1,200. Continued on the Huffington Post,
“Officers are heavily protected by the justice system: They typically do not face legal repercussions for using lethal force against civilians, and when someone kills an officer, they are usually swiftly prosecuted to the full extent of the law. In some states, such as Michigan and New York, killing a police officer is an automatic first-degree murder charge.”
Speaking out against the soon-to-become law is the New Orleans Chapter of the Black Youth Project, which has called on Louisiana’s Governor to veto the bill. In the words of BYP100’s Savannah Shange, “We have to stop this malicious trend before it starts – we cannot allow the gains of the civil rights movement to be squandered away by police officers scrambling to avoid criticism from their constituents.” The chapter’s official statement reads:
“In Louisiana, the murders of Eric Harris by parish officers in New Orleans, handcuffed Victor White III in New Iberia and Armand Bennett at a routine traffic stop show us that police officers operate with impunity in our state and do not need additional protections. We, the people, need protection from police… Including ‘police’ as a protected class in hate crime legislation would serve to provide more protection to an institution that is statistically proven to be racist in action, policy, and impact.”
First-year Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards has announced he will sign the bill into law later this week. With the Fraternal Order of Police being able to push such a horrific proposal into law, other state legislatures may soon be pressured to follow in Louisiana’s footsteps.