Mimesis Law
26 April 2017

Blue Lives Matter Act: A Slap In The Face For Hate Crimes

Mar. 28, 2016 (Mimesis Law) — Colorado representative Ken Buck is very concerned about the health and well being of our nation’s police officers.  His concern for officer safety in a world that “hates cops” is such that  that he’s introduced legislation making attacks on police officers a federal hate crime.

Buck’s “Blue Lives Matter Act,” H.R. 4760, would make “an attack on a police officer a hate crime,” according to the bill’s text. The name of the legislation, filed Wednesday, alludes to the “Black Lives Matter” mantra taken up by activists who protest police violence against black people, particularly the killings of unarmed black people at the hands of police.

For Buck, a former prosecutor, pandering to his colleagues fighting for truth and justice comes as no surprise. Naming his proposed legislation as a direct jab against a movement protesting continued senseless deaths at the hands of police is a touch crass, but understandable.  Drafting your proposed legislation by aping current hate crime law structure and tacking on a new subsection opens a Pandora’s Box of problem scenarios. Take a look at the proposed text of the new “Blue Lives Matter” hate crime law first.

(a) In General.—Whoever, in any circumstance described in section 249(a)(2)(B) of this title, knowingly causes bodily injury to any person, or attempts to do so, because of the actual or perceived status of the person as a police officer

(1) shall be imprisoned not more than 10 years, fined in accordance with this title, or both; and

(2) shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life, fined in accordance with this title, or both, if—

(A) death results from the offense; or

(B) the offense includes kidnapping or an attempt to kidnap, aggravated sexual abuse or an attempt to commit aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill. (Emphasis added.)

Citing § 249(a)(2)(B) is a crude mechanism for Buck’s “Blue Lives Matter Act” to make violence against police officers the literal definition of a “federal case.” It discusses circumstances, like crossing state lines or affecting “interstate or foreign commerce,” and allows Assistant US Attorneys to automatically make an attack, real or perceived, on police federal matters for prosecution.  If you look at the relevant text of the actual codified law, 18 U.S.C. §249(a)(2)(A), which is more narrow, restrictive, and specifically tailored, and you’ll see the reason why this new “Blue Lives” provision is nightmarish in scope.

(2) Offenses involving actual or perceived religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.—

(A)In general.—Whoever, whether or not acting under color of law, in any circumstance described in subparagraph (B) or paragraph (3), willfully causes bodily injury to any person or, through the use of fire, a firearm, a dangerous weapon, or an explosive or incendiary device, attempts to cause bodily injury to any person, because of the actual or perceived religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of any person— (Emphasis added.)

Why add a job, something a person applied for and trained to do, to a list of concepts like “religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability?” If you’re a logical, rational person (and we’ll assume you are, since reading Fault Lines puts you in that bracket), you should be able to spot the flaws with Buck’s rationale right away, tucked neatly into a “Dear Colleague” letter disseminated to his fellow members of Congress.

Federal hate crime laws enhance the punishment for criminal activities motivated by hate for the inherent characteristics or closely held behaviors and beliefs of individuals in certain classes, including race, religion, gender and sexual orientation. Not only do these crimes of hate cause significant emotional harm to the targeted victim and their community, they also cause societal discord and increase the risk of retaliatory violence.  Acts of violence and terror against police officers based solely on their identity as law enforcement officers cause the same emotional harm and sow the same discord in the greater community.

Ken Buck wants to equate harms done to communities like Baltimore, Chicago, and Ferguson with scenarios like the murder of Darren Goforth.  His attempt to give the police, men and women who walk into public every day with a firearm, greater rights than the average citizen, and the overwhelming support of those who toe the thin blue line the same “victim” status as someone who gets tortured, tied to a fence, and beaten to death for being gay is a slap in the face to anyone who values human life.  There’s a big difference between characteristics like race, religion or sexual orientation and the issues that can arise from the public’s perception of those characteristics as opposed to the “color” of a uniform one assumes when becoming a cop, and the public’s perception of being a cop.  The “Blue Lives Matter Act” shows Ken Buck either doesn’t understand that difference or doesn’t care, with its arbitrary wording.

The arbitrary nature of the Blue Lives Matter Act is clear when you notice it’s a federal offense  if someone is attacked because they’re “perceived” to be a police officer.  There’s no need to prove cop status under the Blue Lives Matter Act.  If an AUSA has evidence someone yelled “FUCK THE POLICE” at a Rage Against the Machine concert before slugging a security guard, they can make it a hate crime and force the defendant to plead down from there.  Prosecutors might be incentivized to start at “hate crime” to get a defendant to plead down with a terribly crafted law like this.

Grouping “cop,” a job one signs on knowingly to perform, with “race,” “religion,” and “sexual orientation,” is an incredibly stupid move by someone who should know better. Those like Buck, who would attempt to make and support laws giving police a special “victim” status, would better serve their constituency by going to sit in a corner, wearing a dunce cap, and thinking about what they did before ever crafting legislation again.

Main image via The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett

6 Comments on this post.

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  • Richard G. Kopf
    28 March 2016 at 2:59 pm - Reply

    Dear Chris,

    You simply don’t understand. There can never be a shortage of federal crimes.

    Congress enacted 452 new crimes over the eight-year period between 2000 and 2007——a rate of about 57 new crimes per year——for a total of 4,450 federal crimes in the U.S. Code. Since 2008, goodness knows how many new federal crimes have been added. See John S. Baker, Jr., Revisiting the Explosive Growth of Federal Crimes, Heritage Foundation (June 16, 2008).

    One of the federal crimes I love and have become quite familiar with may be found at 16 U.S.C. § 742j-1(a)(2) (making it a crime to use “an aircraft to harass any . . . animal[.]”) So, if you follow six mule deer with your helicopter at an altitude of about 100 feet you are guilty of a federal crime ’cause you scared ’em.

    This is true despite the fact there is no evidence that the pilot was hunting the deer or helping others to hunt the deer. This is also true even though the government has no information that the deer were killed or harmed. See United States v. Link, No. 4:06CR3125 (D. Neb. 2007), available at:
    https://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=12646991827714717233&q=Link,+helicopter+and+Kopf&hl=en&as_sdt=3,24

    So, if the Congressman is serious, he should get with the program. His proposed legislation should be redrafted to make it a federal crime to harass a police officer with a helicopter. After all, police officers are almost as important as mule deer.

    All the best.

    RGK

    • CLS
      29 March 2016 at 6:54 am - Reply

      Your Honor:

      I’d be strangely comfortable with that re-draft.

      Best,
      –CLS

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