A shiny new dog whistle for the right.
Harming a police officer is already a crime under federal law, and all 50 states have laws that enhance penalties for doing so. But new bills, introduced into both houses as “Protect and Serve” Acts, are modeled after a federal hate crime statute, which would make it a “hate crime” to intentionally target a law enforcement officer based on his “actual or perceived status” as one. Lots of loose interpretive language make these bills especially dangerous for protesters.
Wait a minute…what?
(reason.com) “The House version (H.R. 5698) of the bill makes it a crime to knowingly cause or attempt to cause “serious bodily injury to a law enforcement officer.” The crime is punishable by 10 years in prison. If the crime results in the death of a law enforcement officer, or the crime involves kidnapping or the attempt to kidnap or kill a law enforcement officer, then the sentence can be up to life in prison.
The Senate version (S. 2794) was introduced by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.). Using language that mirrors the language used in hate crime laws aimed at protecting marginalized groups, the bill would make it a federal hate 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.”
Why is this happening now?
Good question. Not only is this law unconstitutional as a federal overreach, it’s also unnecessary, divisive and plays into a false narrative that law enforcement officers are under attack at a time when law enforcement deaths are at historic lows. There are also state and federal statutes already in place that make it duplicative. 2017 marked an historic drop in violence against cops – 44 shot and killed versus 66 in the previous year and a drop overall in deaths from 143 to 128 from 2016 to 2017. Experts point to improvements in training, community engagement and officer safety as likely reasons for this drop. Crashes, not violence, remain the leading cause of officer deaths.
In addition to the drop overall, when a law enforcement officer is the victim of violence, the crime is without exception, investigated and prosecuted, unlike the marginalized groups protected by hate crime statutes. Rather than addressing the issue of police brutality against unarmed African Americans and others, Congress continues to ignore the problem and seize on the false narrative of a “war on police”, that hinders addressing the very real and lethal issue of police accountability.
Opponents of these Protect and Serve Acts include the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, called on the Senate to oppose the bill. (Their letter here.)
Absolutely intended side effects…
What harm could come of these bills? 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.
Or think about a demonstration where police push into a protest line, resulting in pushing and shoving. It would now get pretty easy to start handing out assault charges against the protesters. A politically ambitious U.S. attorney who wants to, say, shut down Black Lives Matter or any other resistance group could get a lot of mileage out of this bill. This affects all of us.
More script if you want it: This law is unnecessary and divisive. If passed, it will have a negative impact on the relationship between law enforcement and the communities they serve.
Make sure your Rep. IS NOT cosponsoring this bill here and your senators aren’t either here. If Heidi Heitkamp is your senator, feel free to call her at (202) 224-2043 and ask her why she stepped in this.
Rep. Julia Brownley: (CA-26): DC (202) 225-5811, Oxnard (805) 379-1779, T.O. (805) 379-1779
or Rep. Salud Carbajal: (CA-24): DC (202) 225-3601, SB (805) 730-1710 SLO (805) 546-8348
Senator Feinstein: DC (202) 224-3841, LA (310) 914-7300, SF (415) 393-0707, SD (619) 231-9712, Fresno (559) 485-7430
and Senator Harris: DC (202) 224-3553, LA (213) 894-5000, SAC (916) 448-2787, Fresno (559) 497-5109, SF (415) 355-9041, SD (619) 239-3884
Other Contacts: http://www.phoneyourrep.com
More Info. – “Know your legal-speak”:
(a)Typical examples. Instrumentalities and channels which serve as the media for the movement of goods and persons in interstate commerce or for interstate communications include railroads, highways, city streets; telephone, gas, electric and pipe line systems; radio and television broadcasting facilities; rivers, canals and other waterways; airports; railroad, bus, truck or steamship terminals; freight depots, bridges, ferries, bays, harbors, docks, wharves, piers; ships, vehicles and aircraft which are regularly used in interstate commerce.
31 General coverage bulletin, § 776.11.
(b)General character of an instrumentality of interstate commerce.
(1) An instrumentality of interstate commerce need not stretch across State lines but may operate within a particular State as a link in a chain or system of conduits through which interstate commerce moves. 32 Obvious examples of such facilities are railroad terminals, airports which are components of a system of air transportation, bridges and canals. A facility may be used for both interstate and intrastate commerce but when it is so used it is nonetheless an interstate instrumentality. Such double use does not exclude construction employees from being engaged in commerce.
32Mitchell v. Vollmer, ante; Bennett. v. V. P. Loftis,167 F. (2d) 286 (C.A. 4); Overstreet v. North Shore Corp., ante; Rockton & Rion R. R. v. Walling, 146 F. (2d) 111, certiorari denied 324 U.S. 880; National