With the nationwide friction between the Black Lives Matter movement and supporters of law enforcement as a backdrop, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards signed a bill Thursday expanding the state’s hate crime statute to include the targeting of police officers, firefighters and EMS personnel.
The bill, also known as the “Blue Lives Matter” bill, has passed both chambers of the Louisiana legislature and heads to Gov John Bel Edwards’ desk. Edwards intends to sign the bill soon, his press secretary Shauna Sanford tells CNN.
Louisiana would become the first state to have such as law on its books.
State Rep. Lance Harris wrote House Bill 953 after Darren Goforth, a Texas sheriff’s deputy, was ambushed, shot and killed while in uniform in August.
“It looked like it was strictly done because someone didn’t like police officers, like a hate crime,” Harris said, adding that including officers and first responders to the hate crime statute made sense because the existing law already is broad, covering attacks because of the victim’s race or gender or affiliation with certain organizations.
“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,” Harris said, adding that he considers legislative action necessary because the crime is “done strictly out of hate for the officer and his uniform.”
“For those individuals who choose to target our heroes, the message formalized in this legislative act should be clear and the consequences severe,” Col. Mike Edmonson, superintendent of the Louisiana State Police, said Thursday.
If the governor signs the measure, the state’s hate-crime law would change to read: “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, firefighter, or emergency medical services personnel.”
Former police Lt. Randy Sutton of Las Vegas, a 34-year police veteran and spokesman for Blue Lives Matter – a national organization made up of police and their supporters formed in response to the Black Lives Matter movement – said he classifies police officers as a minority group.
He said the new law is “important because symbolically it advises that there is a value to the lives of police officers. When you give value, it acts as a deterrent in one sense, but it also is a tool to add extra punishment for the assaults and the crimes against them.”
“Very rarely is it a first-time offender that kills cops,” Sutton said, adding that it’s usually people committing crimes such as robbery or those being pursued by police who turn to shooting officers.
The law’s critics however, see applying protections to law enforcement specifically under ‘hate crime’ statutes as counterproductive.
“Adding professional categories to the current Hate Crimes statute deters efforts from protecting against identity-based crimes,” Anti-Defamation League Regional Director Allison Padilla-Goodman said in a release. “We are not happy that it is being signed into law.”
Padilla-Goodman says the ADL sent a letter to the governor, saying the bill “risks confusing the purpose of hate crime laws” and adds that the ADL supports enhanced penalties for crimes against law enforcement officers, but have not seen cases where those crimes have not been “investigated and prosecuted vigorously under current Louisiana law. ”
“The bill confuses the purpose of the Hate Crimes Act and weakens its impact by adding more categories of people, who are already better protected under other laws,” writes Padilla-Goodman. “Hate Crimes are designed to protect people’s most precious identity categories … like race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, ethnicity, and gender identity. Proving the bias intent is very different for these categories than it is for the bias intent of a crime against a law enforcement officer.”
“The overarching message is that hate crimes will not be tolerated in Louisiana,” he said after signing it.
CNN’s Kevin Conlon and Leigh Waldman contributed to this report.