A new law makes Louisiana the first state in the nation to protect police officers, firefighters and first responders under a hate crime statute.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, signed HB 953 into law Thursday. The bill’s nickname, the “Blue Lives Matter” bill, closely resembles the name of the Black Lives Matter movement against police violence. It classifies police officers and as a protected class and establishes tougher penalties for assaulting or targeting them, including a potential sentence of up to five years in prison and up to $5,000 in fines.
According to the state, a hate crime is when someone targets a victim because of their race, age, gender, religion, color, disability, sexual orientation, among other protected classes. Louisiana’s new law adds a vocation to the list.
“Coming from a family of law enforcement officers, I have great respect for the work that they do and the risks they take to ensure our safety,” Edwards said in a statement. “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.”
The Superintendent of Louisiana State Police, Col. Mike Edmonson said there should be tough consequences for targeting officers. “For those individuals who choose to target our heroes, the message formalized in this legislative act should be clear and the consequences severe,” he said.
But some critics said the bill has the effect of misleading the public about the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Governor Edwards has failed the people of Louisiana by giving in to false rhetoric about the Black Lives Matter movement,” Rashad Robinson, executive director of the activist group Color of Change, said in a statement. “This bill is nothing more than a veiled attempt by the defenders of police brutality to divide Americans with a false choice between protecting Black lives and police officers.”
Opal Tometi, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter, also expressed her disagreement with the bill on Twitter.
— Opal Tometi (@opalayo) May 27, 2016
“Apparently lawmakers can sign myths into law in order to dismiss necessary social movements,” she tweeted.