Mixed Reaction to Rep. Joel Kitchens’ ‘Blue Lives Matter’ Legislation

Representatives Joel Kitchens (R-Sturgeon Bay) and David Steffen (R-Howard) have introduced their “Blue Lives Matter” legislation that would extend hate crime protections to law enforcement officers.

“As the son of a law enforcement official, I know firsthand the stress and turmoil that law enforcement officers and their families go through on a daily basis. Any way we can support those who put their lives on the line every single day to protect us is a step in the right direction. By proposing this bill, Wisconsin is letting criminals know that Wisconsin stands behind our men and women in law enforcement,” said Rep. Kitchens.

Last March Louisiana became the first state to pass “Blue Lives Matter” legislation, and besides Wisconsin, the concept is being considered in Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, New York and Texas, as well as in both houses of Congress.

Opponents of the legislation say hate crime laws should only be used to protect people from crimes targeting their race, religion, national identity or gender. Proponents say the laws are needed to curb hatred against first responders.

“Legislation to impose tougher penalties upon those who target officers for violence simply because of the uniform they wear would send an important and symbolic message,” said Jim Palmer, executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association. “The law enforcement profession is one in which our quality of life largely depends, and an attack on a law enforcement officer affects all of us and our collective ability to live in communities that are safe and secure. In Wisconsin alone, the number of officers assaulted in the line of duty between 2008 and 2014 increased by more than 65 percent. This is alarming, and clearly more needs to be done to protect the dedicated men and women who work to keep our communities safe. While this bill will help, we urge state lawmakers to consider other ways to support our officers. For example, state funding to local governments and law enforcement initiatives have suffered some significant cuts in recent years, and we hope the legislature will examine ways to increase the resources and manpower law enforcement needs to protect us, and themselves.”

Chris Ahmuty, former executive director of the ACLU of Wisconsin, said it helps no one to claim there is a war on police officers.

“Proponents of this type of legislation – to make crimes against police officers into hate crimes – are offering little solace and no practical support,” he said. “Police officers and their families will not be helped by gaining a heightened sense of victimization. They should not adopt the mantle of a beleaguered minority because, in fact, they are valued public servants. We give them the power of life and death and great discretion. We should recognize the stress police officers and their families confront, but piling on by claiming that there is a war against police or that the law isn’t already severely penalizing attacks on police, does a disservice to everyone.”

“This special class of law is aimed at deterring violence directed at minority groups/historically oppressed populations. In contrast, being a police officer is an occupation, like a firefighter or sanitation worker. Or college professor,” said Andrew Austin, chair of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. “Occupations are not at all like race and gender. Being a firefighter is not like being a black person. A person may choose to become a police officer. And when he is not on the job, he can take off the uniform. He is not a ‘blue life.’ A black person is born black, dies black, and is black all day long. She is a black life.

“Imagine if we passed hate crime laws for teachers, sanitation workers, firefighters, mail carriers, and so on,” Austin continued. “Why don’t we? Because protecting these groups provides no ideological value for advocates of the police state. The purpose of making ‘blue lives’ a category akin to black lives is the perpetuation/promotion of law and order/crime control policies. In this way, ‘Blue Lives Matter’ functions like ‘Support Our Troops,’ slogans designed to deter criticism of public institutions and policies. This is unfortunate, because in a representative democratic republic based on individual liberty, those who have an official control function – who usually carry guns, Tasers, pepper spray, batons, and handcuffs – must be subject to strict professional standards, continual evaluation of performance, and consequences for behavior that imperils the public.”

Austin also argues that “it has never been safer to be a cop in America.”

“Violence against police officers has been declining for years,” he said. “On the list of most dangerous jobs, police officer doesn’t crack the top 10. It’s much more dangerous to be a sanitation worker (or a lumberjack or a fisher). However, such legislation is not about addressing a wave of (actually, the downward trend in) cop killings across the United States. Again, such legislation is designed to treat the police as a special class in order to reinforce the legitimacy of the coercive state apparatus. With the historic decline in crime in the United States, and with police violence against civilians rising, an ever growing number of citizens are wondering whether it isn’t time to rethink the path we have been on, to consider rolling back aggressive policing tactics, draconian laws, cruel sentencing guidelines, and mass incarceration, all of which have a disproportionately negative impact on minorities, particularly blacks. Those employed by the vast control apparatus, as well as those who benefit from it in a myriad of ways, have an interest in preventing a public conversation about policing and racism in America. Hence ‘Blue Lives Matter’.”


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