Louisiana cops, fire­fight­ers now pro­tected class for hate crimes

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY AN­DREA NO­BLE

Louisiana is the first state in the na­tion to en­act a law mak­ing it a hate crime to tar­get po­lice, fire­fight­ers and emer­gency med­i­cal per­son­nel — a move that crit­ics say is an over­re­ac­tion to ten­sions be­tween com­mu­ni­ties and law en­force­ment.

Demo­cratic Gov. John Bel Ed­wards signed the bill into law, en­abling pros­e­cu­tors to pur­sue in­creased penal­ties against in­di­vid­u­als who tar­get first re­spon­ders for crimes rang­ing from mur­der to theft.

Sup­port­ers of the law, which faced lit­tle re­sis­tance in the Louisiana State Leg­is­la­ture, say it will send a mes­sage that at­tacks against law en­force­ment and first re­spon­ders will not be tol­er­ated.

“The men and women who put their lives on the line ev­ery day, of­ten un­der very dan­ger­ous cir­cum­stances, are true heroes, and they de­serve ev­ery pro­tec­tion that we can give them,” Mr. Ed­wards said. “They serve and pro­tect our com­mu­ni­ties and our fam­i­lies. The over­ar­ch­ing mes­sage is that hate crimes will not be tol­er­ated in Louisiana.”

Crit­ics say the bill is just that — a mes­sage and lit­tle else. Pros­e­cu­tors al­ready can seek in­creased penal­ties for at­tacks on law en­force­ment of­fi­cers in the state. The law will likely do lit­tle to in­crease pro­tec­tion for po­lice be­yond cur­rent ex­ist­ing law, Dane S. Ci­olino, a law pro­fes­sor at Loy­ola Uni­ver­sity New Or­leans Col­lege of Law told The Huff­in­g­ton Post.

“There’s cer­tainly no gap in the crim­i­nal code,” Mr. Ci­olino said. “It’s just show­boat­ing for the con­stituents.”

Un­der the Louisiana law, any­one who tar­gets law en­force­ment or first re­spon­ders could face an ad­di­tional sen­tence of six months in jail for a mis­de­meanor and five years in jail for a felony.

Op­po­nents are con­cerned that the sig­nal sent by the new law ag­gra­vates ten­sions be­tween the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment and po­lice of­fi­cers.

The Louisiana leg­is­la­tion and a fed­eral pro­posal in­tro­duced in the House this year that would ex­pand hate crime laws na­tion­ally to in­clude pro­tec­tions for law en­force­ment both have been dubbed “Blue Lives Mat­ter” bills.

“This bill is noth­ing more than a veiled at­tempt by the de­fend­ers of po­lice bru­tal­ity to di­vide Amer­i­cans with a false choice be­tween pro­tect­ing black lives and po­lice of­fi­cers,” said Rashad Robin­son, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Color of Change. “Pre­sented with an op­por­tu­nity to bring com­mu­ni­ties to­gether by ad­dress­ing real con­cerns with po­lice prac­tices, his­tory will re­mem­ber that the gover­nor opted for a cyn­i­cal and hol­low course of ac­tion.”

State Rep. Lance Har­ris, who wrote Louisiana’s hate crime ex­pan­sion bill, said he hopes the new law will en­cour­age oth­ers to sup­port sim­i­lar ef­forts at the na­tional and state level.

“I hope it does draw at­ten­tion to the mat­ter so that there can be dis­cus­sion in other ar­eas,” Mr. Har­ris said.

His in­spi­ra­tion to draft the bill came af­ter a Texas sher­iff’s deputy, Dar­ren Go­forth, was gunned down at a gas sta­tion in 2015 by a man who claimed to be re­tal­i­at­ing against po­lice.

Men­tal health ex­perts have since said the sus­pect, Shan­non Miles, suf­fers from schizophre­nia. Mr. Miles was found men­tally in­com­pe­tent to stand trial and is be­ing housed at a psychiatric fa­cil­ity be­fore be­ing reeval­u­ated.

It’s dif­fi­cult to say how fre­quently the hate crimes statute might be used to pros­e­cute in­di­vid­u­als who tar­get first re­spon­ders, ac­cord­ing to pros­e­cu­tors.

“The proof is not easy, but some­times the cir­cum­stances of the in­ci­dent point to that mo­ti­va­tion,” said E. Pete Adams, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Louisiana Dis­trict At­tor­neys As­so­ci­a­tion. “It is not im­pos­si­ble. If the op­por­tune case arises, I’m sure it will be used.”

Only nine hate crimes were re­ported in Louisiana in 2014, the lat­est year that data was sub­mit­ted to the FBI by depart­ments across the state.

No po­lice of­fi­cers have been killed in Louisiana this year. But of the nine who died in the line of duty in the state in 2015, five were fa­tally shot, ac­cord­ing to data com­piled by the Na­tional Law En­force­ment Of­fi­cers Me­mo­rial Fund.

Among those killed in the line of duty last year was Louisiana State Trooper Steven Vin­cent, whose mem­ory law en­force­ment lead­ers in­voked at the bill sign­ing.

“My heart re­mains heavy fol­low­ing the tragic loss last year of Se­nior Trooper Steven Vin­cent, who sim­ply re­sponded to as­sist an in­di­vid­ual in a ditch when he was met with gun­fire,” Louisiana State Po­lice Su­per­in­ten­dent Col. Mike Ed­mon­son said. “For those in­di­vid­u­als who choose to tar­get our heroes, the mes­sage for­mal­ized in this leg­isla­tive act should be clear and the con­se­quences se­vere.”

Pas­sage of the bill comes at a time when law en­force­ment or­ga­ni­za­tions across the coun­try have ex­pressed in­creas­ing con­cern over at­tacks on po­lice of­fi­cers.

While sta­tis­tics re­leased by the FBI last month show 41 law en­force­ment of­fi­cers were felo­niously killed in the line of duty in 2015, a 20 per­cent de­crease from 2014, oth­ers have raised the alarm over an uptick in fa­tal shoot­ings of po­lice of­fi­cers in the first months of 2016. Twenty firearms-re­lated line-of-duty deaths have been re­ported so far this year, a 25 per­cent in­crease over the same time in 2015, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Law En­force­ment Of­fi­cers Me­mo­rial Fund.

“The men and women who put their lives on the line ev­ery day, of­ten un­der very dan­ger­ous cir­cum­stances, are true heroes, and they de­serve ev­ery pro­tec­tion that we can give them,” — Gov. John Bel Ed­wards, Louisiana Demo­crat

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