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.