Fault Lines Debate: Why Hate Crime Laws for Police Are Dumb
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 Greg Prickett and Andrew King to debate the issue: Should cops be a “protected class” for hate crime purpose? This is Greg’s argument:
Due to highly publicized attacks on police in Dallas and Baton Rogue, many politicians are calling for new hate crime legislation for crimes against police. This is mere pandering, posturing for the public who is rightfully shocked at the attacks. The problem is that it doesn’t help, and it further establishes the police as a special class.
Police already have special protection under the law. If you shove someone, you commit a crime. In Texas, it is called Assault by Contact, and is punishable by a $500 fine (no jail time), a ticket. If you shove a cop, it becomes Assault on a Public Servant and is a third degree felony with a possible prison term of 2-10 years. If you add cops to the hate crime group, it becomes a second-degree felony with a possible prison term of 2-20 years. Do we really want to send someone to prison for 20 years for shoving a cop? What makes shoving a cop worth 20 years, but shoving John Q. Public only worth a $500 fine and no jail time?
Louisiana has added police to its hate crime laws. So if you shove a citizen, you have a $1,000 fine and up to 6 months in jail. But if you shove a cop, the time in jail now doubles due to the hate crime law, by adding an additional 6 months to be served consecutively. Had it been a felony, it would have added an additional 5 years to the sentence.
In Mississippi, that shove of a citizen carries a $500 fine and 6 months in jail. Shove a cop? Pay $1,000 and go to prison for up to 5 years. But if you add cops to the hate crime law, as some Mississippi legislators have proposed, that penalty would double to a $2,000 fine and up to 10 years in prison. Is shoving a cop in Mississippi worth 20 times the punishment of shoving anyone else?
We’ve seen the results of unintended consequences. Prohibiting drugs has caused the creation of the drug cartels due to the money involved. In addition, the U.S. incarcerates more of its citizens than any other nation in the world. The first use of SWAT on a drug raid caused the proliferation of SWAT teams throughout the nation, and the overuse of SWAT for any type of search warrant, whether needed or not. Three strike laws to take violent criminals off the street have instead resulted in more homicidal attacks on police officers by criminals who feel they have nothing to lose.
Politicians jump on issues that resonate with the public. The public genuinely like the police, or more accurately, the white-majority population likes the police. Minority populations are more restrained due to patterns of police misconduct that do not get addressed. Even the minority population does not support the ambush and murder of police officers, and most want the perpetrators of those crimes held to account, prosecuted, and punished. So politicians like Texas Governor Greg Abbott jump on the issue, pandering to the electorate.
Not only that, but now at least one judge had basically given police officer victims veto power over plea bargains, abdicating his duty to remain unbiased in an effort to appeal to voters in his re-election campaign. After a motion to recuse was filed in a drug possession case that was pending in his court, the judge rescinded that earlier order, claiming that he did not intend the order to show that he was biased in favor of police officers over defendants. He argued that his efforts had an unintended consequence.
That’s the point, and that’s why we don’t need further laws to protect police officers. Think about it for a second. These laws that are being proposed are changing a mere shove, a small misdemeanor offense, into a violent felony. So someone who shoves a police officer, then runs, is now a fleeing felon under the rules of Garner v. Tennessee, and all the officer has to do is come up with a way to show that the suspect is a danger to others. That’s easier than you think; after all, he’s willing to commit felony assault on a police officer.
You’re creating a law that you must be willing to kill to enforce. You’re creating a law that makes a panicked shove worth up to 20 years in prison.
It’s overkill. It’s unneeded. It’s just wrong.
Rebuttal: My colleague, Andrew King, said at the conclusion of his post:
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?
That’s just a mischaracterization. Police families, as noted, already have superior access to justice over the family of the average crime victim.
Let’s look at murder now, instead of assault. In Texas, if you walk up to a police officer, like Andrew’s example of Deputy Goforth, and shoot him in the back of the head, you face the death penalty. But if Shannon Miles had walked up to and shot John Q. Public, all he would face is 5-99 years or life in prison.
Police victims already have better access than the average citizen. They don’t need even more special privileges.
 See, e.g. Tomaslav V. Kovandzic, et al., Unintended Consequences of Popular Sentencing Policy: The Homicide Promoting Effects of “Three Strikes” in U.S. Cities (1980-1999), 1 CRIMINOLOGY & PUB. POL’Y 399 (July 2002); and Thomas B. Marvell & Carlisle E. Moody, The Lethal Effects of Three-Strike Laws, 30 J. LEGAL STUD. 89 (January 2001).