On May 17, the Louisiana Legislature passed legislation that would make it a hate crime to target law enforcement, firefighters, or medical responders. The bill has been dubbed "Blue Lives Matter."
Hate crime laws have protected citizens from being targeted based on their ethnicity, race, disability, creed, organizational affiliation or gender. If this new bill is signed into law, Louisiana would become the first state to broaden hate crime protections to include a chosen profession.
Republican State. Rep. Lance Harris authored the legislation, which is titled HB 953, following the shooting death of Texas sheriff’s deputy Darren Goforth in August 2015.
"It looked like it was strictly done because someone didn’t like police officers, like a hate crime," Harris told CNN.
"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," he added.
HB 953 passed in the Louisiana Legislature with near-unanimous support, cruising through the state House by 91 to 0 votes and passing in the state Senate by 33 to 3 votes, The Washington Post reports.
Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards has signaled that he will sign the bill into law with an official statement.
"Police officers and firefighters often perform life-saving acts of heroism oftentimes under very dangerous circumstances, and are integral in maintaining order and civility in our society," Edwards said, according to The Post. "The members of the law enforcement community deserve these protections, and I look forward to signing this bill into law."
The legislation arrives amid a tense national discussion over police brutality, with Black Lives Matter activists protesting racial bias in law enforcement evidenced by a myriad of video footage capturing police gunning down unarmed African-Americans.
The Blue Lives Matter movement grew in response, with advocates pushing back and saying the widespread criticism of law enforcement has painted a target on the backs of police officers across the country.
The National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund found that 42 police officers were fatally shot in 2015, down from the 49 killed in 2014, The Post notes. In the 1970s, the average number of police fatally shot per year was 127.
The New Orleans chapter of Black Youth Project 100 has slammed the bill as an attempt to shut down pressure for state law enforcement to reform how they interact with racial minorities.
"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," Savannah Shange of Black Youth Project 100 New Orleans told The Advocate.
Allison Goodman of the Anti-Defamation League of New Orleans expressed skepticism towards the bill, saying courts could find it difficult to determine if a hate crime has taken place when it applies to a profession.
"Proving the bias intent for a hate crime for law enforcement or first responders is very different than proving it for someone who is Jewish or gay or black," Goodman said, according to The Post.
Being charged with a federal hate crime carries a maximum $5,000 fine or five years in prison. Hate crime misdemeanors could result in a fine increase of $500 or up to six months in prison.