New York might be the next state to classify attacks on police, firefighters, or other emergency service workers as hate crimes. On Tuesday, the New York State Senate passed the Community Heroes Protection Act in a 55-7 vote.
Under current state law, the hate crime classification only applies if someone is attacked on the basis of race, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, religion, religious practice, age of 60 or more, disability, or sexual orientation. If this bill passes the State Assembly and is signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo, it will mean law enforcement, firefighters, and emergency medical services personnel will be protected by that classification as well, and perpetrators targeting people in those professions will be subjected to harsher punishments. “The passage of stiffer penalties will not single-handedly protect all of our emergency service workers but we must make it clear that targeted offenses against our Community Heroes will not be taken lightly,” Republican State Senator Fred Akshar, who sponsored the bill, said in a statement. “We will not be silent while you are selfless.”
New York isn’t alone in introducing or passing so-called “Blue Lives Matter” legislation. Last year, Louisiana became the first state to make crimes targeting officers and emergency services personnel hate crimes. And, HuffPost reported in March that at least 47 similar bills have been introduced since January 2016, including 32 in 2017 alone. Other states that have introduced or passed similar legislation include Maine, Mississippi, and Kentucky.
Some see these bills as a response to the Black Lives Matter movement and high profile cases like the shooting deaths of five Dallas police officers. The New York state press release about the recent vote cited data from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund that shows an uptick in police officer deaths per year in recent years (from 116 in 2013 to 143 in 2016). But, as Mic notes, according to the organization's spokesperson, the numbers in that study include all causes of on-duty death, including car accidents, and not just direct attacks on officers. In fact, data from an FBI report last year indicated that 2015 was one of the safest years ever for police in the U.S.
Meanwhile, police shootings — especially against black boys and men — continues to be a serious issue in the country. The Washington Postreports that 352 people have been shot by police so far in 2017. In 2016, 963 people were shot and killed by police; 820 more than the total number of police who died on duty of any cause in the same year. And, as Mic also points out, police rarely go to prison for killing civilians, while The Pew Charitable Trusts reports that, according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), all 50 states already have statutes in place for increased penalties for perpetrators who attack police.
After Louisiana passed its bill last year, the ADL expressed concerns that such a law "weakens [the] impact" of hate crime laws and that "proving the bias intent is very different for [protected categories like race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, ethnicity, and gender identity] than it is for the bias intent of a crime against a law enforcement officer."
In the case of New York in particular, Gothamistreports that police reform activists are raising eyebrows at the fact that the state is moving to protect a group of professionals while voting down the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, which would revise hate crime laws so that they apply to attacks on people based on their gender identity or expression. "New York can be no progressive capital when hate crimes law protections are misguidedly extended to police while they remain denied to New Yorkers who actually experience discrimination based on their gender identity or expression," Communities United for Police Reform said in a statement.
And some are concerned that this rising crop of "Blue Lives Matter" bills could mean that police will have more power to arrest protesters for minor offenses like obstructing traffic or resisting arrest. "That’s the go [for police] to call 'stop resisting' even if you’re not," activist Kimberly Ortiz of the group NYC Shut It Down, told Mic. "Given that it’s already the practice of the NYPD, of course, it will only get worse."