A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Open Letter to Gov. Bevin regarding the ‘Blue Lives Matter’ law from national human rights advocates

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Dear Governor Bevin:

On behalf of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of more than 200 national advocacy organizations, we write to express our opposition to Kentucky’s House Bill (H.B.) 14, often referred to as the “Blue Lives Matter Law.”

H.B. 14 would make it a hate crime to threaten, harass, assault, or engage in disorderly conduct toward police officers, firefighters, or emergency medical personnel. The Leadership Conference supports efforts to advance fair policing practices that ensure the safety and wellness of both law enforcement and the communities they protect, but H.B. 14 is duplicative of Kentucky’s current law.

In addition, H.B. 14 perverts the original intent and importance of hate crimes legislation. The passage of H.B. 14 would also undermine efforts to improve relations and rebuild trust and cooperation between law enforcement and the communities they serve, especially communities of color. Finally, H.B. 14 also damages the progress Kentucky and our country have made to reduce incarceration and reform the justice system.

Violence against any person, including our law enforcement officers, is unacceptable, which is why it is already a serious crime to threaten or use force against police officers. All 50 states already impose harsh penalties for assaulting or killing a police officer. 

The Kentucky penal code expressly addresses killings or assault against police officers in numerous provisions.

For example, injuring or attempting to injure a peace officer is a Class D felony. Additionally, offenders who have been convicted of killing a peace officer, while the victim was acting in the line of duty, cannot be released on probation or parole until he or she has served “at least eighty-five percent (85%)” of the sentence. Prosecutors can also seek the death penalty for those who kill a police officer. Therefore, extending hate crimes protection to law enforcement officers needlessly duplicates Kentucky law.

Moreover, establishing a hate crime for violence against police officers perverts the original intent behind hate crime laws.

Hate crime laws have been intended to protect individuals and communities who have certain immutable characteristics or have experienced a “long legacy of violence, intimidation, and discrimination.” Thus, such laws address crimes motivated by, for example, the race, color, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender, gender identify, or disability of the victim. A chosen profession, no matter how admirable, is not an immutable characteristic, and law enforcement officers do not suffer the kind of discrimination that individuals currently protected under hate crime laws experience.

Any decision by Kentucky to broaden existing hate crimes protections should be based on evidence demonstrating a need for greater protections. Thus far, there has been no evidence that police officers in Kentucky are vulnerable to the same bias and discrimination as individuals and groups who have been systematically deprived of civil rights or equal treatment due to their status as a member of a minority group. In fact, the number of officers in Kentucky killed in the line of duty has continuously declined. Assault has taken the lives of only 16 officers in Kentucky since 1791, with zero deaths by assault in 2016. Additionally, only six officers have been feloniously killed in Kentucky between 2006 and 2015. The killing of six officers in nine years does not justify the expansion of Kentucky’s hate crime statute.

The designation of “hate crime” gives judges in Kentucky more discretion in denying probation and parole boards more discretion to deny parole, making it harder for those who are deserving and low-risk to be released under supervision. This, combined with stricter sentences for those who commit crimes again police officers, will increase Kentucky’s already growing prison population and exacerbate a prison system that is already over-capacity.

The passage of H.B. 14 could also result in hundreds of new offenses and undermines Kentucky’s efforts to address over-criminalization and over incarceration by reforming the justice system. Moreover, the language of H.B. 14 raises concerns that the legislation could disproportionately affect people of color and protestors exercising their first amendment right to free speech. Instead of heightening tensions between police officers and communities of color, we should focus on improving police-community relations, and in particular, we should advance the recommendations put forth by the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which include trainings and best practices for community policing to promote officer safety.

The passage of H.B. 14 will not further protect our men and women in blue, and we urge you to reject and veto this bill. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact Sakira Cook, Counsel, at cook@civilrights.org or (202) 263-2894 or Leslie Paluch, Policy Fellow at paluch@civilrights.org or (202) 263-2853.

Wade Henderson
President & CEO

Nancy Zirkin
Executive Vice President
Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

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3 Comments

  1. Michael Thornton says:

    Welcome to the Law of Unintended Consequences; you wanted the “Hate Crimes” designation to provide “extra” protection (which it doesn’t being after the fact) for certain groups and individuals (picked by your organization and other like-minded people) and you got it. Of course, now that others are being included that takes the spotlight away from those you want to exploit. Tough schnitzke. FYI, I think the whole “hate crimes” is ridiculous and unnecessary; a crime is a crime and not done out of love.

  2. Marv Dunn says:

    Firefighters and emergency medical personal should have equal protection as police officers under the law, that is, if it isn’t already the case. I don’t think prosecutors have been particularly easy on crimes against any of the above. The biggest problem is the name. The term “black lives matter” brings out the lowest common denominator in many of us and we responded with “blue lives matter”. “Blue lives matter” co-opts the slogan adopted by many in the African-American community and they resent the name and source, particularly because their slogan represents the truth as we have seen from several amateur videos and cop cams. We can’t afford to throw more gasoline on that fire. The Legislators could have simply called it “The First Responder’s Protection Act” and all this noise would have not happened.

  3. Michael Thornton says:

    The “truth”, Marv? Really? As happened in Ferguson back in 2014? Point is, like it or not, “blue lives” matter more. Why? Because they are out there to protect and serve. Deal with it or go fly yourself to Somalia and get a taste of anarchy.

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