Greg Abbott: Political Pandering or Necessary Police Protection?
July 21, 2016 (Fault Lines) — As the nation struggles with Black Lives Matter versus Blue Lives Matter, and amidst too many shootings, Texas Governor Greg Abbott called for Texas to increase penalties for offenses against police officers and to add officers as a protected class under state hate crime statutes:
Abbott announced Monday his plan to lobby for adding his Police Protection Act to Texas law. Along with extending hate-crime protections to law enforcement, the measure would also increase criminal penalties for any crimes in which the victim is a law enforcement officer and “create a culture of respect for law enforcement by organizing a campaign to educate young Texans on the value law enforcement officers bring to their communities,” according to a statement from Abbott’s office.
“At a time when law enforcement officers increasingly come under assault simply because of the job they hold, Texas must send a resolute message that the State will stand by the men and women who serve and protect our communities,” Abbott said Monday in a statement.
Texas law already includes heightened offense levels with greater punishment ranges for offense committed against police officers. By example, a simple assault is a class A misdemeanor carrying a punishment of up to one year in jail; however a simple assault against a police officer is a third degree felony punishable up to 10 years in prison. And while murder carries a life sentence, the murder of a police officer is subject to the death penalty. Does Abbott not believe Texas sends a message that harming officers is bad? Or is he simply looking to capitalize on the current Blue Lives Matter vote?
Under Abbott’s proposal, penalties for offenses against law enforcement would increase; the now third degree assault against a police officer would increase to a second degree felony with a punishment up to 20 years in prison. Again, the same conduct against a non-officer would remain a misdemeanor with a maximum punishment of one year in jail. Even under Texas’ current hate crime provisions, a simple assault motivated by bias or prejudice against a protected class remains a class A misdemeanor with only a change for a mandatory minimum sentence of 180 days, while retaining the maximum one year penalty.
In addition to increasing these penalties, Abbott wants to amend the hate crime statutes to include police officers as a protected class. Currently, Texas provides added punishment for offenses motivated by a person’s bias or prejudice against a group identified by race, color, disability, religion, national origin or ancestry, age, gender, or sexual preference.* Traditionally, hate crime laws serve to add protection for otherwise vulnerable groups of people and deter violence against those who may have different beliefs. The harsher penalty applies because hate crimes are intended to hurt, intimidate, or victimize an entire community rather than just the target of the act.
Are police an otherwise vulnerable group? Is violence against an officer intended to hurt or intimidate the entire police community? Are crimes against officers underreported and in need of encouragement to prosecute them? Plain and simple, the answers are no. Police are not particularly more vulnerable. In fact, they are better trained and greater equipped to protect each other and themselves. Crimes against police are rarely underreported. They are most definitely heavily prosecuted – as they should be. So, why is there a need to create a special class?
Law enforcement is a career choice; not a protected class. What if teachers suddenly came under attack for the job they hold? What about doctors? Lawyers? Where does the career protection stop?
To be clear, police should not be targeted. But then again, no one should be. As fellow Fault Lines contributor Greg Prickett aptly pointed out, it is the militarization of our police along with a perceived lack of accountability for their misdeeds that brought law enforcement under attack. Our “war on drugs” has turned into a war on citizens. Officers, dressed in military-styled fatigues or riot gear and armed with assault rifles, begin to see policing as “us” versus “them” and treat citizens as enemy combatants. Officers respond by gearing up for the war. Couple this attitude with a lack of accountability for police shootings and other misconduct and some people will revolt. People may take matters into their own hands, attacking officers, with a sense of righting the wrong that others have tolerated.
This is not to say any attack on law enforcement is right. Clearly it is not. But creating a special career class under the hate crime statute does nothing to solve the problem. Penalties are already great for violence against officers. It’s time for accountability for officers so that citizens can trust the system and the process.
* Texas Penal Code Sec. 12.47 increases penalties and Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Art. 42.014 defines protected classes.