It’s official: police officers and other public safety employees are now considered a protected class through Louisiana’s Blue Lives Matter law, which goes into effect Monday.
"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," Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) said in a statement after signing the bill in May.
Louisiana’s law is the first of it’s kind in US history, but it likely won’t be the last. In March Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO) introduced a Blue Lives Matter Act to Congress. A Chicago alderman proposed a Blue Lives Matter ordinance in July. Kentucky state Rep. Kevin Bratcher introduced a similar statewide bill the day before the shooting ambush in Dallas, killing five officers. In the aftermath of the shooting, other Republican state lawmakers from Wisconsin and Florida are following suit.
Meanwhile, five states — South Carolina, Georgia, Arkansas, Wyoming, and Indiana — have no state-level hate crime laws on the books. And for the remaining 45 states, the strength of the hate crime law protections varies.
To get a bit of perspective on Louisiana’s Blue Lives Matter law and its potential repercussions, I spoke with Allison Padilla-Goodman, the regional director of the Anti-Defamation League’s south central regional office in New Orleans, which has been outspoken against the bill since it was at the voting stage.
The issue isn’t that cops shouldn’t be protected — in fact, they receive far more protection than most. But hate crimes are a problem of identity, not occupation, referring to "the things they have to use to confront the world on a day-to-day basis all the time, and that they don't take off at night when they go to sleep," Goodman says.
Below is our conversation, edited for length and clarity.
Victoria Massie: Before it reached the state Senate, the ADL’s statement against the bill called attention to what it means to include an occupation — something that one can choose — under the hate crime law provision for people who are discriminated against and targeted based on far less mutable characteristics. Why do you think that is such an important point that needs to be made?
Allison Padilla-Goodman: Adding professional categories to a hate crimes bill is a bad idea in general, because it really waters down the original intention of the bill.
So hate crimes are crimes committed against the most personal parts of people's identity and the things they can't change about themselves: their race, their gender, their ethnicity, their sexual orientation, their disability, their gender identity. The things they have to use to confront the world on a day-to-day basis all the time, and that they don't take off at night when they go to sleep. These are things that are a core part of every individual. Adding a professional category isn’t that.
Yes, our professions mean a lot to us. And that could be said for a lot of professions. And I think that for people in civil service, and law enforcement in particular, that probably means more than what it means for most other people. But professions mean a lot for everyone.
In this country, we take crimes committed against law enforcement very seriously every day. There is no ambiguity about that whatsoever. We can look at what happened in Dallas. The reactions across the country, from every group and every walk of life, have been clear, and sad, and there's been a lot of solidarity and empathy. The same can't be said about crimes committed against people for the unchangeable parts of their identities.
We still see crimes happening against people because they are gay, or transgender, or Muslim, or Hispanic, or female — you name it. And those crimes are not taken as something different. Whereas a crime against a cop is taken as something different. There's already enhanced penalties in Louisiana, and, I'm sure, in many states for when a crime is committed against a cop. It is something a little more serious than just a crime. We can't say the same for hate crimes.
A crime committed against somebody because they are black should not be treated the same as a crime committed against somebody because the perpetrator wanted some money. There is a different leverage issue we're talking about here. And that piece needs to really be taken seriously. And unfortunately, in Louisiana — which is not unlike many other states in this country, so I'm not just giving a bad rap to my state — does not have a great history of reporting hate crimes. So we have not been taking seriously crimes against people's identities.
We had nine hate crimes reported in the last year of available data. And while I'd love to pretend there were only nine hate crimes committed that year, I know that's not true. And I don't think there's been any attention or interest in that, whereas crimes against cops are taken seriously, and we know that.
VM: As you mentioned, adding a profession flattens the goals of the laws themselves. But why do you think law enforcement seems to be the one included, in terms of a precedent?
AG: This isn't the first time that a non-immutable characteristic that has been incorporated. There have been a couple that have tried to include homelessness. And there are a couple of other examples. So this isn't the first and only example of a [non-immutable] characteristic trying to be incorporated into the hate crimes law, or the essence of hate crimes laws tried to be changed.
I do think it's very evident and very obvious that law enforcement is feeling very different in the past few years. And I think they're feeling under siege in some parts. Warranted or not, there is a lot of friction in our country right now around law enforcement and the communities they serve.
I should say, from the outset, we are an organization that straddles both lines: We actually work really closely with law enforcement, and we are also embedded in the community and work and fight for community rights. And we don't think those things are diametrically opposed. This is not an either-or game. This is both. Both entities need support and mediation and bringing together. And now is the time, more than ever, especially with what's going on in Baton Rouge, in considering our Blue Lives Matter law to bring people together and to try to increase dialogue among these groups.
VM: You mentioned that homelessness is another characteristic that can change, but that has been included in hate crime provisions. But is there still a difference between including protections for homelessness compared with law enforcement?
AG: We hope that somebody moves in and out of homelessness, right? We hope that someone who is homeless, one day is not homeless. So that's something that changes about a person. And it's not something that is a permanent piece of someone's identity. It's not something they confront the world with every day, like blackness or gayness.
VM: Maybe not in the same way. But one of the questions I have is that when dealing with systemic inequalities, which can make someone permanently homeless, is there a difference compared with law enforcement, who have power and can change being a police officer?
AG: Our qualm here is not about power. Power is actually not a piece here. We need to talk about politicians not being an immutable character. President of the United States is not an immutable characteristic. Being a beggar on the street is not an immutable characteristic. It's just a different kind of category.
I am Jewish. I am going to be Jewish for the rest of my life. It is something that's a part of me. It is my culture. It's my ethnicity. It's my religion. It is how I've grown up. It is how I am raising my family. I encounter anti-Semitism, etc. That is who I am. And that's something that will never ever change.
Being a part of a law enforcement agency, people retire eventually. Yes, they stay a part of associations and clubs and societies. But they're no longer a cop. They no longer wear the badge. They no longer have the tear gas. The same can be said about most homeless people. It's not that it's not an issue of inequality. This is an issue of identity. It's just a different category.
A lot of times, crimes committed against homeless people involve other categories that are covered under hate crimes, like race or ethnicity or sexual orientation. And those things are covered by hate crimes.
A hate crime is really trying to take seriously our identities and who we are. And those things that change are not that. I'm not making a statement on structure versus agency or anything like that.
VM: One of the concerns is that police officers target people based on their "immutable characteristics." Does the Blue Lives Matter law impact how or if law enforcement will be held accountable for their own biases, which are exhibited through practices like specifically targeting, for instance, people of color or transgender people, or profiling of Muslims?
AG: There are two sides to this answer. One, and predominantly, I don't think it does. I don't think this matters that much for that. The Louisiana hate crimes statute still includes crimes committed against people for their immutable characteristics. So crimes committed against people for being Muslim or black or Jewish or gay still should be taken as they ever were — which they haven't been taken that seriously, so there's still some work to be done.
Adding the Blue Lives Matter piece into this hate crimes statute does not really do much to change any of that. It doesn't make law enforcement more accountable. It doesn't push them on the other side of what a hate crime really is.
It really doesn't do much for education, which is one of the biggest issues we see. [The ADL spends] a lot of time training law enforcement on hate crimes because I think the No. 1 reason law enforcement have not been reporting hate crimes to the extent that they should is because they haven't known about it. We train hundreds of law enforcement a year. I trained hundreds in just the past few months — when we train law enforcement, they get it. And they're like, "Yeah. This makes a lot of sense."
Law enforcement also really understand that if they were to get hate crimes right, it could be a real game changer for their community relations. That if they could get the thing that really hits at the cores of people's beings right, and take it seriously, and show that they care, it could really bring people together in important ways. So I think adding this kind of Blue Lives Matter piece to the hate crimes statute muddies the waters and confuses the education piece quite a bit. So if anything, I think there's that negative effect.
The other side is that calling it the "Blue Lives Matter" bill is probably not helping law enforcement in the way it should. And so I think there's a lot of talk about without knowing what it is or what it means. But as far as what you're talking about, the kind of day-to-day real pragmatic accountability issues with law enforcement, I'm not sure this Blue Lives Matter piece really changes that.
VM: You said that calling it the "Blue Lives Matter" bill isn't helping them. What do you mean by that?
AG: Well, I think there is a movement in this country that's been going on for several years now that's important to recognize and pay attention to and be in dialogue with: the Black Lives Matter movement. And I think any effort at using that language to title another parallel movement is unproductive.
VM: Why is that unproductive?
AG: I think that law enforcement have a lot of serious issues to be dealing with on a day-to-day basis. I think that even as we watch these protests going on, there've been some ugly side effects, ugly groups involved in these protests that've really detracted from the true activists who are trying to bring attention and do good work.
I think the situation is complicated already, and I think titles and semantics matter. And complicating things even further with changing labels and titles to things complicates things even more for people on the ground.
VM: In terms of activists, the New Orleans chapter of Black Youth Project 100 issued a statement when the governor signed the bill into law with the specific concern that the law could be used to violate protesters' or activists' First Amendment rights by making them a protected class under the new statute. What do you think about that concern?
AG: I mean, law enforcement is already a protected class. So with or without this hate crimes bill, they're already a protected class. I'm not sure this hate crimes bill does anything for that at all.
This is one of the pieces about a hate crime: Proving a hate crime is tricky. You have to have both hate and a crime. There has to actually be a crime. Me saying, "I hate x," is not a crime. Hate speech and hate thought is not a crime.
On the other side, you've got to be able to prove there's hate, and that's not always easy. So there's got to be an eyewitness who saw me as, I was hitting a cop, say, "I hate cops," or something like that. Or I need to have a social media footprint that proves I'm a cop hater. There's got to be something to prove that I specifically have hatred toward cops.
Without those two pieces — and obviously proving the hatred is the trickier one — a hate crime doesn't stand. A crime committed against a cop is obvious and is taken seriously, and is easy to prove. So I'm not sure the Blue Lives Matter bill here really does anything or comes into effect for that.
VM: One of the things about this climate — in part because of the antagonism between police and activists via the Blue Lives Matter versus Black Lives Matter opposition that has been created over the past couple of years — is a troubling lingering discussion that somehow critiquing police brutality makes one anti-cop. Even Beyoncé has been consistently labeled "anti-cop" for her critiques on police brutality.
There's also the issue of how much power officers wield. People are subjected to unlawful arrests that are escalated, and then charged with things like "assault on a public servant" or even property damage for something as absurd as bleeding on police uniforms after law enforcement beat them.
When we live in that kind of environment, where you’re considered anti-cop or a cop hater for critiquing cops’ work, and yet there are indications that officers exploit their arrest power, could there be a kind of worst-case scenario where someone could be, in fact, charged for a hate crime under those circumstances?
AG: Again, proving a hate crime is difficult. I think it's much more difficult than most other crimes to prove. It's hard to think projectively: "Would this happen? Could this happen?" I guess anything is possible, but it's hard to project that and imagine that type of scenario.
At the same time, I think what you're talking about is the core of all of this: Why is there such an either/or right now? Why is it that you're either on one side of the fence or the other? And I think the protests we've seen recently, I'd say the majority of them have kind of shown otherwise. We've seen a lot of very peaceful protests, a lot of peaceful protesters who have been out there, oftentimes with cops, saying, "My brother is a cop, my father is a cop," and I think that's why this is important. At the same time, some of the reactions from law enforcement have not always been easy or productive as well.
I think there has got to be a middle ground. I think there's got to be more dialogue and conversation here. I think that protests and rallies are really productive. I also think there's got to be more understanding of the common mission here, which I think there is.
So I know the Baton Rouge Police Department. I've known them for years, and we've done some work with them. And I know they have some real vested interests in community policing. Obviously they've got some issues to handle and some things to work out. But I don't think that's far from their agenda.
And there's space there for a discussion of how to support Baton Rouge Police Department as well as all other law enforcement agencies that are really trying to make this momentous shift right now toward a community policing model.
On the other side, there's got to be recognition of frustrations: frustrations with inequalities, and police brutality, and media putting things very clearly in front of us and giving us access to see things in [new] ways. ... There's just got to be recognition, a lot of recognition, of some of the issues of inequality and discrimination in our country.
VM: President Obama made a statement prior to the memorial service for the Dallas shooting victims last week stating that had the shooter, Micah Johnson, survived, he would have been charged with a hate crime, which I'm not actually sure is possible or legal. It feeds into this idea that anti-police malice is the same as, for example, anti-black malice. What responsibility do politicians have when speaking about hate crimes, not just in Louisiana but also the president?
AG: [Outside of] the Blue Lives Matter bill in Louisiana, I think there's a whole lot of education that needs to be done around hate crimes. We still have five states in this country that do not have hate crimes statutes, period. One of which was South Carolina, which, considering the Charleston shooting last summer, is not something to be taken lightly.
More than half of states in this country do not have comprehensive hates crimes bills, so they don't include [protections for] sexual orientation, or disability. Louisiana's doesn't include gender identity. I think there's a lot of education that needs to happen around hate crimes: What is a hate crime? Why do they matter? Why should we care?
We do trainings all the time. We do them mostly with law enforcement, but we do them some with community leaders as well. We recently did a training with the US Attorney's Office. People were floored to learn the information and to understand what a hate crime really is and why it matters.
We can talk about the low numbers of hate crimes reported. And, yes, a large chunk of that responsibility lies in law enforcement and their education. But an equally large part comes from the community, which [often does not] trust law enforcement or doesn't know that they should be reporting that their perpetrator called them a slur. The community also [plays] a piece in this in reporting hate crimes and reaching out to their law enforcement partners and to their politicians to demand that their identities are protected and taken seriously. We still don't do that well as a country across the board.
Louisiana's hate crime bill, before this Blue Lives Matter piece, was actually a pretty good bill. So it missed the gender identity piece, but it covers everything else, and it covers a pretty wide range of crimes. It needs to include the gender identity piece, so don't mistake what I am saying. But it was a pretty good bill, and still our reporting numbers were nine [hate crimes] in the last year. Many other states either don't have a bill at all or have very incomplete bills. And that's on our politicians for sure.