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What Does it Mean to Make Attacks on Police a Hate Crime?

Dallas PD at an officer memorial in Washington , D.C. in 2014.
Flickr/Elvert Barnes (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Dallas PD at an officer memorial in Washington , D.C. in 2014.

From Texas Standard:

Police across the country are reeling after the shooting of police officers in Dallas and now most recently in Baton Rouge. Now officers say that they are stepping up security measures - more patrols, a heightened sense of awareness, and now - possibly a new law.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced yesterday a proposal for a police protection act which would extended hate crime protections to police officers, similar to laws in place meant to protect victims of crimes based race, sexuality, and religion. But do hate crime laws really work? 

Michael Bronski, a professor at Harvard University, wrote the book "Considering Hate: Violence, Goodness, and Justice in American Culture and Politics."

Bronski says the law in question, which would extend to a profession the protections originally put in place for minorities, is "understandable" given recent shootings in Baton Rouge and Dallas.

"(But) I think if we step back from it a bit, it makes much less sense," he says. "Most Americans think hate crimes laws are really good and really useful and help run society better, but I think they are actually fraught with many problems and with many misunderstandings."

As crafted by minority rights' groups like the Anti-Defamation League and the NAACP, hate crime law doesn't, in fact, deter hate crimes.

"These are not extreme laws by any means in the American legal system. There's just no evidence whatsoever... that hate crime laws have a deterrent effect," Bronski says. "Passing this, saying it will make police safer – it's not the case."

Bronski says he doesn't believe hate crime law would stop a person who wants to shoot a police officer, simply because he or she is a police officer. "I also believe that hate crime laws are, essentially, feel-good laws," he says. "They are passed and people say, 'Oh, that's good. Now we're safe.' But hate crime is on the rise."

Traditionally, Bronski says, hate crime laws were intended to protect disenfranchised or minority groups based on religion, race, ethnicity and, later, gender and sexual orientation. He says many police officers do great work but may fit into the common understanding of what hate crime protections do because of the nature of the group as a job, rather than an identity.

"To extend this to professions... it's a real leap from what they were intended for," he says. "They are not a minority – they are a profession, like lawyers, plumbers, doctors. I think this actually takes the intent of the law and changes it."

Bronski says it broadens the law in a way that both makes it "meaningless" in its traditional sense and opens up the opportunity for other professions to be included.

"It actually becomes possible to use it for conspiracy, in a legal sense," he says. "If somebody were conspiring against a profession, would that be a hate crime?"

Post by Hannah McBride.

Copyright 2020 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit KUT 90.5.

Alain Stephens heads up investigative reports for Texas Standard. A graduate of the University of North Texas and a veteran of two of the U.S. armed forces, Alain served both in the Coast Guard and the Air Force. His work has won accolades for exposing how the state pays those with disabilities below minimum wage, as well as the fast-tracking of juveniles to adult prisons. Contact Alain at astephens@kut.org, or (512) 232-6173.