Mimesis Law
16 October 2019

Fault Lines Debate: Blue Lives Matter, Too

August 2, 2016 (Fault Lines) — Ed. Note: In light of the Blue Lives Matter push following the murders of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge for the creation of “hate crimes” legislation for police officers, we charged Fault Lines contributors Andrew King and Greg Prickett to debate the issue: Should cops be a “protected class” for hate crime purpose? This is Andrew’s argument:

This year has seen a rash of shootings where it appears that the shooter deliberately targeted police officers. And before that, there have been multiple incidents where police officers were thought to have unjustifiably killed suspects. From these deaths sprang Black Lives Matter, which is principally concerned with these types of killings. So, there have been many quick to want to blame this on Black Lives Matter and label them a terrorist group, although killing police officers does little to advance the political agenda.

Regardless of whether Black Lives Matter had any role whatsoever in motivating the individual shooters who targeted police officers, in the usual case the shooter didn’t know the officer he killed. So, the officer was not targeted for what the officer had done or said to the shooter. Instead, these officers were shot because they wore uniforms, had badges, and were the human face of the State. The lives if the officers were taken in furtherance of political ends.

No matter how sincerely held, or even how empirically valid a belief may be, individual citizens do not get to burn down the entire system because they think it is desperately needed. One guy armed from his basement bunker doesn’t get to decide that for 320 million people. A gun is not a megaphone, and bullets aren’t votes.

There is plenty of injustice and oppression in the world, some of it even here in the United States. In the broadest sense, attacking police officers is terrorism, or perhaps low-intensity guerilla warfare carried on by freedom fighters—if you’re partial to that view. But there are other ways to bring about change, such as through civil disobedience. Politically motivated assassinations are for spy movies and failed states.

This thing that we choose to do together, which we call the United States, has rules about making changes. Sowing discord and violence is the sort of thing done by a comic book villain, rather than a virtuous agent for change. Here, in the real world, it typically takes at least 50% plus one vote to make changes. While often slow, it’s worked generally alright. Heck, we even voted ourselves into independence and into a war with Britain with that rule. And the Civil War began through a similar process.

Those people targeting police officers for political reasons are usurping the political process and undermining the law, in addition to terrorizing many members of the community. So, it makes sense to escalate the punishment for those attacking a police officers for political ends. To that end, a member of Congress has suggested enacting a bill to do just that.

Fault Lines contributor Chris Seaton expresses his disagreement with the Blue Lives Matter bill here:

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.

First, this is not about giving police officers greater rights. Whether punishing an offender in the form of a sentencing enhancement, an escalation in degree of felony, or as a mandatory minimum, the underlying fact is that a crime was committed. So, the officers wouldn’t have rights as such, rather the offender would receive harsher punishment for what is essentially a terroristic act. This is in contrast to so-called the police officer bills of rights, even Heather MacDonald is cool to that idea. So is Ken White. That should tell you something.

Second, Chris takes issue with characterizing this as a hate crime. While there is certainly a broader argument against hate crime legislation in general, the fact remains that this is a path frequently taken to protect identified classes of people being subjected to a special harm. Simply because that class of people is identifiable through being state actors does not make them any less deserving of equal protection. Certainly this approach is novel, but so were race, gender, and sexual orientation at one time. But citing novelty alone would be a weak objection.

Chris later assailed Louisiana’s Blue Lives Matter Bill as being too broad and too inclusive. The inclusiveness of the bill makes sense, if law enforcement officers are being targeted for doing their jobs, i.e. enforcing the laws. Because these killings usually aren’t personalized, it makes sense to provide broad protections to anyone that could be targeted.

Relatedly, Chris argues that too much conduct is criminalized. Maybe there is the possibility it could chill speech or over-punish minor offense, if the legislation looked like Louisiana’s. Perhaps it makes sense to limit this type of additional protection only to where the underlying conduct is a felony. But even so, that does not mean the entire idea is a bad one simply because Louisiana took a particular approach.

Fault Lines Managing Editor, Scott Greenfield, has tackled this subject too. Like Chris, he worries about this type of legislation being chilling, and like the folks at Reason, he questions whether you can have a hate crime when you’re legally entitled (at least for now) to hate or love other people. But Scott briefly touches on another argument:

When a cop gets killed, you can bank on there being punishment aplenty.  When an unarmed black man gets killed, you can test how long you can hold your breath waiting for the “investigation” to reach its conclusion.  And when a cow gets killed, the nation will turn to Red Wing, Minnesota for its expertise.

Until then, we would do far better worrying about people dying than people hating cops for doing the killing.  Because in America, we’re allowed to hate anyone we damn well please. We just can’t harm them for it.

As Scott’s capstone, that section touches on themes mentioned throughout his piece, but there is also the echo of a utilitarian argument against this type of legislation.

Because crimes against the police are likely to get a lot of attention and official action, it may be argued that it is a waste of resources to pursue this policy. As with Chris’s criticism of the particular Louisiana bill, there might be some avenues the bill would be wise to foreclose. But here too, that’s not a reason to be totally against the idea. For example, in the case of a sentencing enhancement, the offense is already being charged, so it’s a negligible cost to pursue it too.

If we’re talking about a Blue Lives Matter bill in the context of a homicide, then we’re talking about the harm suffered by those left behind. Until this point, the focus here has been on the harm suffered by the community when an act of terrorism is aimed at a law enforcement officer. But the real victims are the friends and families of the fallen police officers. To them, the harm is direct and personal.

Their suffering is similar to what families of victims of hate crimes experienced. On the day the person was killed, it was just a day like most others. The victim was doing the sorts of things you do when you don’t know it’s your last day on Earth. Then they cross paths without someone who not only hates them for who they are and what they represent, but also someone willing to kill because of those feelings and ideas. And then a life is ended simply because of that intense hatred.

Personally, I cannot say whether calling it a hate crime or adding more time on the sentence provides any comfort or relief to the family members. But it’s something from which families in similar situations benefit. A Blue Lives Matter Bill gives those families the same access to justice as other families who lost loved ones to hate. So why deny the families of law enforcement officers that?

Rebuttal: Greg contends that treating crimes against police as hate crimes is both pandering and unnecessarily punishing the offenders.

While there are certainly politicians that welcome the opportunity to appeal to certain constituents, it doesn’t mean that the legislation is automatically disqualified as improper. If that were the case, nearly all legislation could be equally disqualified. Moreover, doing the right things for the wrong reasons still means that they were right.

Second, as I hopefully explained at length, willfully attacking an officer can be characterized as a relatively severe crime. It makes sense to increase the punishment, at least in some instances.

20 Comments on this post.

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  • Scott Jacobs
    2 August 2016 at 11:33 am - Reply

    I encourage everyone to click the link to Ken Whites post about the idea of police bill of rights, and then ponder the absolute gall it takes to suggest it is supportive of the idea…

    • Greg Prickett
      2 August 2016 at 11:56 am - Reply

      Uh, I don’t read Andrew as saying that Ken White was supportive of an LEOBOR. In fact, I read it as the exact opposite, that Ken opposed LEOBORs, just like Heather McDonald did.

      • shg
        2 August 2016 at 12:23 pm - Reply
  • arandomacto
    2 August 2016 at 11:46 am - Reply

    > So is Ken White.

    The lack of reading comprehension evident here suggests how unserious we should consider this article.

    From Popehat:

    > To me, when the police demand these special procedures, it necessarily means one of two things. Either they (1) want to protect their ability to lie, or (2) don’t give a shit about whether their regular interrogation tactics used on us are fair or reliable.

    > Or maybe a little of both.

    Ringing endorsement.

    • shg
      2 August 2016 at 2:13 pm - Reply

      Irony.

  • TMM
    2 August 2016 at 12:16 pm - Reply

    No reason to do it as a hate crime. Best to do it the same way that we do domestic violence — motive is irrelevant; it’s the status of the victim that matters. Most states have killing a cop as one of the statutory aggravators for murder. For similar reasons, it makes sense (and several states do) provide for enhanced penalties for assaulting a cop.

    • Liz W
      2 August 2016 at 1:19 pm - Reply

      The problem is that these rules will be abused. Look at what cops do with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest as it is, imagine what they’ll get up to when they can get someone locked up for years based solely on their word.
      Andrew would disagree, but he’s a dishonest piece of trash (though I’m sure he prefers the term “prosecutor”) and would love to be able to have one of his buddies in blue claim scraped knuckles and get to tack on another multi year charge to help him force a plea.

      • shg
        2 August 2016 at 1:27 pm - Reply

        Disagreeing with Andrew is fine. Calling him a dishonest piece of trash speaks very poorly of you. We get it. You totally disagree with Andrew. If you have reasons, tell them and you might persuade others. But comments that just disparage him are worthless and don’t belong here.

        • Anon.
          2 August 2016 at 3:39 pm - Reply

          You want courtesy and civility on this blawg? And both at the same time?

          You’re no fun.

  • Tom H
    2 August 2016 at 2:08 pm - Reply

    I can see assassination as a hate crime, but what is the point in making it a hate crime? You are going to get the death penalty in Texas anyway. If you make assault a hate crime they will want to charge a hate crime every time they pull someone over for failure to signal a lane change and wrestle them to the ground. Will resisting become a hate crime?

    • Andrew King
      3 August 2016 at 2:27 pm - Reply

      Tom,

      As Greg and Chris have pointed out in their writing, there is definitely the chance that it could lead to disproportionate results in certain cases. And I do thing that is something that should be considered in any proposed bill. But at the same time, it strikes me as pretty common that offenses against police officers often get some sort of escalation attached to them. So, it doesn’t strike me as something exceptional.

      • Greg Prickett
        3 August 2016 at 8:30 pm - Reply

        Andrew, there’s not a problem with escalation. The problem is the escalation has lost all sense of proportionality. When a proposal would enhance shoving a cop to be equal to shooting a civilian, there’s a problem.

  • dissentingd
    2 August 2016 at 3:59 pm - Reply

    Andrew, thanks for doing your best to argue in favor of making crimes of violence against police categorized as “hate crimes”, and requiring extra punishment for said crimes. You did your best, and I remain unconvinced.

    However, don’t feel bad, as I don’t believe in “hate crimes” as a category, or police as a protected class.

    Motive for physical violence, in my opinion, should matter only to the extent that it reveals your cognitive intention to inflict injury (ie ‘state of mind’). “Did you intend to hurt them?” is relevant. “Did you plan to hurt them?” is relevant. “For what reason did you wanted to hurt them?” is not, unless that answer concerns your ability to separate reality from mental illness. It doesn’t matter if you kill someone because they stole your wife, your boat, or your favorite toenail clippers. What matters is you killed someone, and how aware or active in that action you were. The injury is the reason for the crime being on the books, not the motive. That’s why wanting to kill someone isn’t illegal.

    Thoughts can’t be crimes, only actions. And guess what, violence against police is already illegal.

    The argument here is laughably: “Should this illegal behavior be even more illegal than it already is, because it happened recently somewhere?”.

    Whenever, as a society, some among us who consider themselves “more special” (like police feel right now) desperately want to change the rules we all live by for their own betterment, we should ask ourselves “Why?”. You missed that part in this piece.

    I’ll help.
    Question: “Why should violence against police be treated even more aggressively than it currently is?” Answer: “Because cops and cop lovers currently want to make it that way”.

    It won’t reduce violence against cops. It likely won’t result in longer served sentences by the perpetrators (those who commit serious violence against police don’t seem to thrive/survive very long in the justice system, whether before arrest or after). It won’t prevent violence against cops.

    What results are intended then?
    Why would we want those?

    Cops have enough perks as it is. If they’re afraid to do their jobs, they can go get another job; nobody makes anyone put on a badge. If someone attacks a police officer, we’ll put them in jail, longer than if they hurt any of the rest of us, as it is against a LEO. If someone kills a police officer, we will put them in jail, just as if they had killed anyone else, because every person’s life is worth it. Isn’t that enough?

    Or is this where we are all supposed to bow and say police lives are somehow worth more?

    • Andrew King
      3 August 2016 at 2:29 pm - Reply

      I think that there is a broader discussion about whether hate crimes in general are a good idea. I more or less accepted them as given and worked from there.

      It’s an issue that I may address in the future.

      • dissentingd
        5 August 2016 at 1:36 pm - Reply

        Andrew,

        Thank you so much for the reply!
        I look forward to your future articles, especially any on the hate crime topic.

  • Cindy
    2 August 2016 at 7:46 pm - Reply

    “…where police officers were thought to have unjustifiably killed suspects. From these deaths sprung Black Lives Matter.” With all due respect, Black Lives Matter was created in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman for killing Trayvon Martin.

    Your article is deceptive and misleading for it omits a material fact: In almost all cases of unjustified killings of citizens by the police, the criminal justice system failed the victims and their families. Either: 1) the DA failed to bring the case, or 2) the judge dismissed the indictment, or 3) a bench trial resulted in an acquittal or 4) the judge reduced the jury’s verdict and the cop received no jail time.

    While one can’t condone killing police, we have to ask whether some citizens feel totally helpless in the face of what they perceive to be a corrupt criminal justice system. And feeling totally helpless, do they irrationally and wrongly act out? That is the salient question.

    “Blue Lives Matter” bills will only make things worse.

  • Wrongway
    3 August 2016 at 4:05 am - Reply

    Personally, I would’ve like to see Mr. King argue the other side of this debate..

  • bacchys
    3 August 2016 at 10:36 pm - Reply

    By-and-large policing is safer than ever. We don’t know if the current uptick is the start if a trend or simply a momentary phenomena. But these poorly considered, emotionally-driven laws will be wreaking injustice for a long time to come.

    Police already have special protections under the law. Pushing or killing a cop already carries stiffer punishments than doing so to Joe Citizen, and considerably more if the pusher or shooter of Joe Citizen is a cop.

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