Louisiana became Thursday the first U.S. state to declare assaulting public safety workers a hate crime when recently elected Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, signed a bill that passed with broad bipartisan support in the Legislature.
The law is known as the “Blue Lives Matter” bill, referring to the color of police uniforms and the “Black Lives Matter” movement, which highlights numerous incidents of police shootings of unarmed black boys and men in recent years. “Blue Lives Matter” has emerged as a tagline response among people who defend police actions.
Bills similar to Louisiana’s have been proposed in other states and at the federal level.
The law adds enhanced penalties for crimes against police officers, firefighters or emergency care responders (or people perceived to be employed as public safety workers) that currently covers victims targeted for their gender, race, age, religion, sexual orientation, nationality or ancestry.
“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 governor said in a statement after signing the bill. “The overarching message is that hate crimes will not be tolerated in Louisiana.”
Most states already have laws on the books that add punishment for assaulting police officers, but this is the first time a state has added professions to hate crime laws aimed at punishing criminals whose actions were motivated by racist, anti-religious or other bigoted beliefs.
Critics argue that there are other ways to boost protections for public safety workers, who already enjoy considerable public support and sympathy from juries. Adding professions into hate crime laws goes against the spirit by which they were created, they argue.
Crimes against public safety workers are already being "investigated and prosecuted vigorously under current Louisiana law," Allison Padilla-Goodman, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, told ABC News earlier this week.
But lawmakers in Louisiana, a state already known for tough sentencing laws, were inspired by a series of recent widely reported attacks on officers, including the ambush-style killing of Deputy Sheriff Darren Goforth in Cypress, Texas, in August 2015.
Last year, 124 U.S. law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty, according to the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund.