WA “Blue Lives Matter” Bill
Senate Passes Bill Including Police in Hate Crime Statute
By Jasmine Kozak-Gilroy
On March 10 Senate Bill 5280 (SB 5280) passed in the Senate chamber with a 35–14 vote, allowing it to move forward into the House. SB 5280’s intended purpose is stated as “making crimes and threats against persons because of their occupation as a law enforcement officer a hate crime.” As it stands right now, Washington State Legislation RCW 9a.36.080 makes it a Class C felony if a person threatens or injures someone “maliciously and intentionally… because of his or her perception of the victim’s race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, or mental, physical, or sensory handicap.” SB 5280 would amend this list of classes covered by statute to include “occupation as a law enforcement officer.”
On March 13 the Senate bill will go to the House, where a similar bill was introduced but did not receive a hearing. The Senate Bill received bipartisan support, although being sponsored primarily by Republicans. Democrats hold a slight majority in the House, but this does not necessarily mean the bill is unlikely to pass into law.
Under most circumstances it is already a felony to assault a police officer, but this law could make threatening or verbally harassing an officer a felony as well, in situations where those actions are deemed to be based on that officer’s occupation. In Louisiana, where a similar law is already in place, a man wass already charged with a Felony hate crime against a police officer in a case that otherwise would have been misdemeanor damage to property and disturbing the peace.
While the exact effect Washington’s bill may have on sentencing is not entirely clear, a Class C Felony is punishable by up to five years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines, so the law would likely lead to longer sentences and larger fines for those convicted under it.
Some legislators against the bill are also concerned that it will make hate crimes appear less serious, since the currently protected identities are mostly considered to be innate and unavoidable, whereas police officers make the conscious decision to work as police, and could choose to quit.
Organizers of a protest against the bill stated on their facebook event page, “This bill would afford police—whose function, by bias and discrimination, is to concretize and legitimize hate—the same protected status (and the power to enforce it) that Queer and Trans people won fighting them at the Stonewall Uprising, Black folks won in the midst of 100s of years of carceral resistance, that the disability rights movement won during the 80s and 90s.” Calling for people to attend the House proceedings and “Flood the public hearing, overwhelm it, aspire to shut it down.”
The proposal in our state is only one of 32 similar bills that have been introduced nationwide in 2017. These bills are often referred to as “Blue Lives Matter” laws, clearly a direct response to the Black Lives Matter movement and a perception by some, primarily conservative, Americans that this protest signifies an increased threat against police officers.
Trump also amplified this narrative, campaigning on his support of police and the accompanying idea that they are currently threatened, once asserting in a New York Times interview “people are shooting our policemen in cold blood.” Once elected, Trump issued an executive order in early February aimed at “preventing violence against federal, state, tribal and local law enforcement officers.” The order has not yet created any large changes in laws, simply stating they will find ways to enhance the enforcement of current federal laws and conduct a review to recommend legislation on how to “address the protection and safety” of police officers.
Despite some recent high-profile incidents of violence against police, such as the shooting of 14 police, killing five, in Dallas, there is not evidence to support the belief that police are more threatened than they have been in the past.
While the The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, found an increase in police deaths between from 41 in 2015 to 64, according the FBI data the number of officers who are killed in the line of duty has been steadily trending downward since the early 1970s, even as the number of police has doubled.