Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards (D) signed the 'Blue Lives Matter Bill' on Thursday, May 26, 2016, making it the very first law in the United States where public safety workers are now protected under hate-crime law.
This bill, which easily passed in the legislative houses, makes it a hate crime to target law enforcement officers, firefighters, first responders and other emergency medical service personnel in the state of Louisiana.
According to an interview with Fox News, Edwards said, “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. They serve and protect our communities and our families. The overarching message is that hate crimes will not be tolerated in Louisiana.”
Edwards is the son of a sheriff and comes from a family of law enforcement officers.
There are already existing laws and bills covering bias-motivated crimes against individuals based on their race, gender, religion and sexual orientation. Under Louisiana's new bill, anyone convicted of a hate crime towards officers would suffer additional consequences, including a $5000 fine and five years in prison. For a misdemeanor, the consequence is a $500 fine and a 6-month prison sentence.
Louisiana is the first, and currently the only state, that includes law enforcement protected under hate crime laws, however, 37 states have higher penalties for assaulting police officers. In some states, retaliating against a police officer can be a factor leading to an assault or battery charge. In many states, killing a law enforcement officer can be a factor making the crime eligible for the death penalty.
Blue Lives Matter was influenced by Darren Goforth, a Texas police officer shot on duty in August 2015. After Goforth lost his life in the shooting, that supposedly was motivated by the distinct fact that Goforth was an officer, Louisiana's Representative Lance Harris decided it was time to take action. He drafted the Blue Lives Matter bill (House Bill 953).
According to Inquisitir, Harris stated, "It looked like it was strictly done because someone didn't like police officers, like a hate crime." Harris believes that all law enforcement, and emergency responders, should be protected because they are being targeted out of hate due to their uniforms.
'Blue Lives Matter' adopted its popularized phrase from the Black Lives Matter movement, which began with the 2014 police shooting of an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, MO. Black Lives Matter activists have protested what they claim to be excessive force by the police, especially with unarmed citizens.
Those arguing that 'Blue Lives Matter' believe that it is the law enforcement officers who are under attack.
According to the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund, 124 police officers died in the line of duty in 2015 - 49 being fatally shot. Louisiana had nine officer deaths in 2015. Although the numbers have gone down, officers and others feel that there is a tension present when it comes to law enforcement.
Randy Sutton, National Spokesman of the Blue Lives Matter organization said, "[The Blue Lives Matter bill 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."
"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," said Harris in an interview with CNN. "Now, this [new law] protects police and first responders under the hate crime law."
On the contrary, not everyone shares the same ideas, feelings, and attitudes towards the bill.
According to an interview with CNN, "Working in a profession is not a personal characteristic, and it is not immutable," said Allison Padilla-Goodman, a regional director at the Anti-Defamation League. She added that her organization supports penalties for crimes against police officers, however, the law "weakens the impact of the Hate Crimes Act by adding more categories of people who are already better protected under other laws."