It’s apparently time for a legislative update to The War on Cops. Apropos of nothing, legislators from both sides of Congress have flung some more “cops are more equal than others” legislation into the ring. Senators Orrin Hatch and Heidi Heitkamp have joined their House counterparts in attempting to make any crime against a police officers a hate crime. From Hatch’s press release:
Protect and Serve Act of 2018:
The legislation adds a new section to Chapter 7 of Title 18 that:
Makes it a federal crime to knowingly cause bodily injury to any person, or attempt to do so, because of the actual or perceived status of the person as a law enforcement officer;
Prescribes a penalty of up to 10 years imprisonment for a violation, or up to a life sentence in cases that result in death or involve kidnapping;
Requires that the offense have a federal nexus;
Requires certification by the Attorney General that a state has waived jurisdiction or that federal prosecution is in the public interest and necessary to secure substantial justice; and
Requires the Attorney General to issue guidelines for determining whether a crime was committed because of the actual or perceived status of person as a law enforcement officer.
Why do we need this law? We don’t. But don’t let that stop the bill’s sponsors from arguing otherwise.
“In rural and urban areas alike, law enforcement officers face heightened risk every time they put on their uniforms,” Heitkamp said.
They actually face historically low risks, with last year’s death stats being even lower than the year before. But let’s not let actual death totals get in the way of increasing penalties for anyone who has the misfortune of dealing with cops. It doesn’t just cover murder — even though “targeted killings” are the main talking point. It covers any bodily injury, which makes it perfect for stacking charges on arrestees. Anything from an aborted fist swing to an accidental bump can be turned into an assault charge and this law gives federal prosecutors the chance to escalate the side effects of resisting arrest into a federal prison sentence. And it’s a great way to keep abused citizens from filing complaints, as Radley Balko explains:
What harm could come of this bill? An assault on a police officer charge is often used a cudgel — it’s a way of dissuading legitimate victims of police brutality from filing complaints. If such an assault charge could soon come with an additional federal charge punishable by up to 10 years in prison, that cudgel grows by about 10 sizes. It gets awfully persuasive.
Lest there’s any doubt this bill is a “hate crime” bill, the press release makes it crystal clear.
Since May 2016, several states have enacted laws that make attacking police because of their occupation a hate crime. The Protect and Serve Act takes a similar approach and is modeled after the federal hate crime statute, 18 U.S.C. § 249.
It’s true. Several stupid state legislatures have decided to elevate some of the most powerful public servants in their jurisdictions to the status of “protected victim.” Never mind the reason most hate crime laws are enacted is to bring more power to the powerless — a (clumsy) way to address criminal acts predicated on hatred of someone’s race or sexual orientation. Police officers are neither a race nor a sexual orientation. There is no conscription involved in a law enforcement career. It’s strictly voluntary, unlike the personal traits involved in most hate crime laws.
It’s not as though there’s a lack of aggressive prosecution when officers are killed or injured. There’s never a shortage of charges to be brought or a dearth of zeal to see this criminal act punished. Many states already provide sentencing enhancements if the crime victim is a police officer. This bill simply gives the federal government the option to swoop in and punish certain criminals more harshly, ignoring any lack of “Blue Lives Matter” state statute.
It’s a stupid legislative proposition built on the ridiculous delusion that there’s a War on Cops being waged day in and day out when it’s really a lot of isolated incidents scattered across an ever-moving timeline. Being a cop in America is safe. Officers do not suffer for a lack of physical or legal protections. They are some of the most-protected individuals in this nation. A law like this is more than redundant and needlessly punitive. It’s an implicit message sent to all Americans, telling them their public servants — at least these ones — are better and more deserving of protection than they are.