A bill that would double penalties for crimes targeting police officers, firefighters and medics passed the Mississippi Senate by a 37-13 vote Thursday, despite impassioned cries against it from African-American senators.
Senate Bill 2469 , a “Blue Lives Matter” proposal that moves onto the House, says any crime committed against emergency personnel because of their status as police officers, firefighters or emergency medical technicians would be a hate crime. State law currently doubles penalties for targeting people because of race, ethnicity, religion or gender.
Though there have long been enhanced penalties for certain crimes against police and others, the idea that a hate crimes law could cover someone because of their occupation and not because of intrinsic qualities is a new innovation that only sprung up after shootings of police officers last year in Dallas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
“This is a response to law enforcement being shot down for nothing more than putting on their uniform and wearing the badge,” said Sen. Sean Tindell, R-Gulfport, the bill’s lead sponsor.
The measure drew opposition from African-American senators. Some warned they feared that police would use the heavy penalties as a shield to abuse black men.
“If we pass this law, it will only embolden those law enforcement officers who hold a grudge, who don’t like people,” said Sen. John Horhn, D-Jackson.
There was also a general concern that supporters were trying to change the terms of the national conversation from police violence against African-Americans to supporting police.
“I think this bill is another way that you can target black males,” said Sen. Barbara Blackmon, D-Canton.
She said her two teenage sons had been stopped unreasonably by police, just because they were young, black and driving nice vehicles. She said she and her husband, Rep. Ed Blackmon, had to teach their sons to be submissive to police.
“You haven’t walked in our shoes,” Blackmon told white senators. “You haven’t experienced that. Our concern is our child making it home after having been stopped by law enforcement.”
The House Judiciary B Committee sent a separate proposal to the full House Thursday. House Bill 645 would triple penalties against anyone who commits a violent crime against emergency personnel. Unlike the hate crime bill, it doesn’t require prosecutors to prove intent. However, it wouldn’t apply to crimes that some skeptics of the bills had worried could be used to impose harsh penalties on protesters, such as resisting arrest.