By: Sunny Spears
People all over the United States have protested, written letters, and hosted town halls with their legislators in demand for the broad values of equality, justice and more specifically, to bring an end to the innocent being killed by police. Unfortunately, Kentucky legislators responded to these protests with House Bill 14 (HB14). HB14 is eerily similar to the “Blue Lives Matter” bill that was passed in Louisiana – an insensitive bill that undermines the initial reasons why federal lawmakers felt the need to develop hate crime laws. To add insult to injury, the bill is in response to the increasing divide between police and the Black and Latino communities. Frankly, it is the wrong response.
A brief summary of HB14 follows: “relating to an offense committed as a result of a hate crime, to include offenses committed against an individual because of the individual’s actual or perceived employment as a city, county, state, or federal peace officer, member of an organized fire department, emergency medical services personnel; provide that “emergency medical services personnel” taken from KY Legislative records.
Kentucky’s “Blue Lives Matter” bill was passed with an overwhelming vote of “yes”. Legislators voted “yes” to a law deeming assaults towards any police officer, fire-fighter, and any first responder a hate crime. There is no question of the fact that our police and first responders need protection – they absolutely do. Our law enforcement undoubtedly deserve to be protected while on duty. However, broadening the scope of what is determined a hate crime to include assaults on officers offers no extra protection for them, but is instead a method to further target marginalized communities.
The reason for the need to label specific crimes as hate crimes has an ugly, deep-rooted history in the United States. Initially, crimes labeled as hate crimes were intended to aid in providing justice for underrepresented, marginalized individuals who were often found beaten, tortured, and killed due to their race, religion, or sexual orientation. Hate crime statutes were meant to ensure harsher punishments for those who commit such heinous crimes. HB14 completely distorts those initial intentions and in effect, insensitively taunts communities of color. It is simply a backlash to the demand for justice in the wake of tragedies of young men and women killed by police. This legislative body was quick to pass legislation to protect those whose job it is to protect and serve, but offered no new policy to protect innocent citizens who continue to find themselves victim to police.
If legislators are truly concerned about the possibility of increased danger faced by officers and first responders due to the growing divide in our country, then perhaps they should shift their focus towards bridging that gap. Implementation of polarizing legislation like the “Blue Lives Matter” bill solves nothing, but instead creates more instability. Communities across the country are becoming more aware of unlawful arrests, police brutality/killings and unjust acquittals. Legislators should push their focus towards legislative protection of people of color that prevent these tragedies, instead of bills that further criminalize the victims. The people of KY need legislation that will make them feel secure in their communities, enabling them to rightfully trust those who have sworn to serve and protect.
An objection to HB14 is not a protest of police, nor is it dismissive of the danger they face. We need police officers and first responders to do their job and play their role in creating and maintaining safe communities. But we can protect and respect our first responders without HB14. There is a significant distinction between assaults that naturally occur within the line of duty compared assaults against police and first responders motivated by hatred for their occupation. Even without this legislation, criminals who assault officers in any way are already punished to the fullest extent of the law – a type of justice that most victims of police brutality and killings never experience.
Some lawmakers claim that HB14 serves no real impact, others claim it will allow judges to impose tougher sentences. Either way, it diminishes the intent of the initial Hate Crime statutes that were passed to bring justice to people who were threatened and assaulted due to their race, religion, sexual orientation, and national origin – which in turn is taunting to the very communities who seek justice for those horrendous hate crimes. Sadly, people are still beaten and killed due to what they look like or what they believe. If legislators truly believed that all people were created equal, then perhaps the conversation would not be about a “Blue Lives Matter” Bill, but an avenue for legislators to bridge the gap between officers and marginalized communities and have a real conversation about truly providing equality and justice for all.