• Gov. Brian Kemp signed House Bill 838 into law, providing additional protections to police, firefighters, and EMTs who are the victims of "bias-motivated intimidation"
  • Anyone found guilty of the crime could serve between 1 to 5 years in prison and up to a $5,000 fine
  • The bill has been criticized as unnecessary and is seen by the ACLU and others as a means to help undermine Black Lives Matter efforts

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law new protections for police officers, a decision which has been met with criticism for amid ongoing Black Lives Matter protests across the U.S. and efforts to increase police accountability.

House Bill 838 was signed into law Wednesday, creating the crime of “bias-motivated intimidation” which applies to the death or physical harm of a police officer, EMT, or firefighter, or damage of $500 or more to property associated with those three categories. Reports say it was pushed through the Georgia Legislature by Republicans with no support from Democrats.

Anyone found guilty could be fined up to $5,000 and face 1 to 5 years in prison. HB838 also allows anyone who fits into those three categories to sue the people or “entities” who knowingly filed false complaints or infringing on the officer’s own civil rights “arising out of the officer’s performance of official duties.”

“House Bill 838 is a step forward as we work to protect those who are risking their lives to protect us,” Kemp said in a press release. “While some vilify, target, and attack our men and women in uniform for personal or political gain, this legislation is a clear reminder that Georgia is a state that unapologetically backs the blue.”

The bill serves as another example of the split between Kemp and state Democrats over the former’s desire to “back the blue” amid ongoing protests. Kemp and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms have repeatedly clashed over Kemp’s decisions during the protests, including the deployment of the National Guard into the city after a girl was killed during protests at the Wendy’s where Rayshard Brooks was killed in June.

“The irony of that is that I asked Governor Kemp to allow us to mandate masks in Atlanta and he said no,” Bottoms told ABC on July 7, referencing Kemp’s hesitation to mandate masks during the coronavirus pandemic. “But he has called in the National Guard without asking if we needed the National Guard.”

The American Civil Liberties Union has also criticized Kemp over the new law, saying it was unnecessary and only undermines Black Lives Matter.

“The Georgia code already includes more than sufficient protections for police officers,” ACLU Georgia executive director Andrea Young told the Associated Press. “HB 838 was hastily drafted as a direct swipe at Georgians participating in the Black Lives Matter protests who were asserting their constitutional rights.”

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp GETTY IMAGES / Kevin C. Cox