In recent years, national attention has been paid to the crisis in police-community relations, as communities demanded and were denied accountability following police killings of unarmed people of color. In New York, the killings of Eric Garner, Gary Porter, Delrawn Small, Deborah Danner, and too many others, are stark reminders of the need to address police excessive force and the systemic targeting of people of color.
Rather than addressing the policies and practices that lead to unnecessary deaths and that erode trust between police and the communities they are sworn to protect and serve, so-called “Blue Lives Matter” bills have been proposed across the nation as a political response to basic demands for fair and constitutional policing. This legislation, S.335 (Akshar) / A.5065 (Abbate), is part of that backlash and would serve to undermine efforts to improve police-community relations, while doing nothing to improve safety for officers.
This legislation would make “actual or perceived employment as a law enforcement officer, a firefighter or as emergency medical services personnel,” a protected classification for purposes of penalty enhancements in hate crimes prosecutions. Not only is this measure unnecessary in light of existing laws that already provide more serious charges for violent acts against officers, it is a profoundly inappropriate attempt to equate a voluntarily chosen career path with the immutable traits that give rise to protection under our civil rights laws.
While the NYCLU has expressed reservations about hate crimes and penalty enhancements generally, we note that the purpose of such measures has always been to extend protections to groups that have faced historical persecution or discrimination. There is no evidence to suggest that the status of being a law enforcement officer, firefighter, or emergency medical services provider has resulted in discriminatory treatment or targeting for violence equivalent to the pervasive institutional violence faced by people of color, religious minorities, or LGBTQ persons. The NYCLU recognizes that these professions involve real elements of danger, but that does not mean that we should trivialize the unique and specific vulnerabilities of historically persecuted groups by adding employment-based protections to our hate crimes law.
The New York Civil Liberties Union opposes S.335 / A.5065 and urges lawmakers to defeat this inappropriate and counter-productive legislation.