On Thursday, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards officially signed into law the “Blue Lives Matter” bill, making the state the first in the nation to protect public safety workers under hate crime laws, the Washington Post reports.
Hate crime laws usually bring additional penalties to those convicted of targeting victims on the basis of race, ethnicity and religion in many states. However, now, in Louisiana, police officers, firefighters and emergency medical service personnel will fall under the same protected class under the state’s hate crime law.
“The men and women who put their lives on the line every day, often under very dangerous circumstances, are true heroes, and they deserve every protection that we can give them,” Edwards said in a statement. “They serve and protect our communities and our families. The overarching message is that hate crimes will not be tolerated in Louisiana.”
The change in the law would mean that suspects convicted of committing felony hate crimes against police officers could face a fine of up to $5,000 or five years in prison. Added to a misdemeanor, a hate crime charge would rack up a $500 fine or six months in prison.
“For those individuals who choose to target our heroes, the message formalized in this legislative act should be clear and the consequences severe,” State Police Superintendent Col. Mike Edmonson added in a statement Thursday. “On behalf of first responders throughout Louisiana, we thank the Legislature and the governor for helping to make this law a reality.”
As the Post notes, the legislation faced very little opposition from lawmakers, easily making its way through the Statehouse. Louisiana State Rep. Lance Harris, a Republican, authored the bill in the wake of several high-profile cases, including the December 2014 slayings of two New York City police officers that shook the nation.
However, the bill has not been completely unopposed in social circles, with the New Orleans chapter of the Black Youth Project 100, an activist organization of black youths ages 18-35, slamming the signing in a statement.
“The New Orleans Chapter of Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100) is deeply disappointed that Gov. John Bel Edwards signed into law a measure that mocks the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement and implies police are under attack when that is patently false,” the group said in its statement. “No one is attacking the police. Period. When we consider the history and reach of police brutality, we know that we need protection from the police, not more laws protecting the police. Our hope was that as a Democrat, Edwards would be more in tune with a huge component of his supporters: Black people.”
In another statement the group added: “By treating the police as specialized citizens held above criticism and the laws they are charged to enforce, we lose our ability to exercise our First Amendment right. Including ‘police’ as a protected class in hate crime legislation would serve to provide more protection to an institution that is statistically proven to be racist in action, policy and impact.”
Read more at the Washington Post.