Republican U.S Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado has proposed a federal bill that would make assaulting an officer a hate crime.
Last October, the small town of Red Wing, Minnesota proposed similar legislation as a response to the increased momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement. The city became the first in the nation to pass legislation that would protect cops under hate crime laws. The first county to pass such legislation was Warren County, Ohio last year. This resolution has been seen as redundant, according to critics.
The state of Minnesota and others around the country already have laws that protect police from assault. In fact, striking a cop can be a felony in many states. Under Minnesota law, an assault on any law enforcement officer can mean increased fines and jail time. If an officer is injured, a misdemeanor assault can be upgraded to a felony. The state also carries enhanced penalties for attacks on many professions, including firefighters, judges, prosecutors, teachers and postal workers, among others, according to the Star Tribune.
Federal hate crime laws were never intended to protect people of various professions.
Jack Levin, professor of sociology and criminology at Boston’s Northeastern University, told the Star Tribune last year that “ [hate crime laws were] not meant to protect various occupations that are particularly dangerous. Of course, the police have always been in the line of attack. It’s part of the job. And they’re not the only occupational group in that situation, although theirs is extreme.”
The newest form of the law proposed by Buck would give federal prosecutors an extra measure of authority that already exist in hate crime cases. Now, federal prosecutors can bring additional charges in hate crime related cases in which victims are targeted for violent crime because of their background — race, gender, religious or otherwise.
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Congressman Buck said:
“I’ve been in law enforcement for 25 years before I started in this job. I’ve seen over and over both police officers on the street and federal agents, jail deputies and bureau of prison officials being threatened by very dangerous people. I have a passion for trying to protect those who protect us. That’s what this bill is about.”
This legislation comes at a time when police shootings and killings of officers are down. Figures released by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund show that 123 officers were killed in the line of duty last year. The number seems high, but is actually one of the five lowest. In 2012, there were 131 police deaths. The next year there were 109, then 122 in 2014. The highest year of police deaths this decade was 2001, with 241 killings.
However, police killings of civilians have drastically increased over the past two years. According to The Guardian’s Counted Project, the number of people killed by police this year is estimated at 257. Last year, the number was 1,145.
As of last week, Rep. Buck has gathered support for the bill. Other sponsors include Republicans — Reps. Trey Gowdy, Pete Sessions, Jason Chaffetz, and John Ratcliffe — who have been asked to be added as co-sponsors.