Blue Lives Matter More: Georgia Introduces Hate Crime Bill Designed to Protect the Cops
by Michael Fortino, Ph.D.
In the summer of 2020, a summer of discontent, a summer rife with pandemic lockdowns and street protests, the Georgia Legislature chose not to address the unrest and concerns of protesters but rather to double down on the side of law enforcement. They decided to give police and first responders more legalized protections and powers, including immunity from nearly any civil action brought against them. On August 12, 2020, Georgia passed, by a thin margin, the controversial bill HB-838/AP, under a vote that was split down the conservative/liberal party line.
Law enforcement has always enjoyed various protections that relate to this unique and dangerous line of work, but in recent years, states such as Georgia have begun to expand such protections leaving the public with a “David and Goliath” disadvantage. Law enforcement has enjoyed “qualified immunity,” a nearly impenetrable legal shield that provides an officer with immunity from nearly any civil lawsuit. This one-sided protection has successfully provided them the ability to act with impunity in almost any scenario short of acts involving premeditated criminal intent or outright murder.
Police have also enjoyed safety behind the iron curtain of labor unions. Beyond these protections, law enforcement, for many years, has been given preferential treatment, even judicial bias, from courts and prosecutors. It may well be these very protections that have encouraged law enforcement to adopt the authoritarian culture that triggered the protests—a culture where “show of force” and “social dominance” among police have become commonplace. Now, in the midst of civil disdain for police brutality and unbridled aggression, Georgia felt the need to expand protections for law enforcement.
“HB 838 was hastily drafted as a direct swipe at Georgians participating in the Black Lives Matter protests who were asserting their constitutional rights,” said Andrea Young, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia.
Passed by the Georgia House and Senate, and signed into law under Governor Brian Kemp, the stand-alone bill, sponsored by Hitchens, Lott, Jasperse, Gravley, and Lumsden, is basically an act that “unapologetically backs the blue,” according to Kemp. Since the Georgia Legislature was unable or unwilling to come up with a bill that addresses true hate crimes against minorities, even in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and many others, it introduced this new hate crime bill that, with few exceptions, further shields cops in Georgia regardless of circumstance or cause and even provides them with a legal sword.
The bill’s language addresses “bias-motivated intimidation for damages to person or property a public safety officer (i.e. policeman) or a first responder may suffer during the officer’s performance of his duties.” No doubt all the images we see daily on newscasts of burning police vehicles or the destruction of a police precinct seemed to make a strong impression on Georgia’s conservative lawmakers. Instead of attempting to address the underlying issues that have led to this rash of civil unrest, Georgia politicians have stacked the deck against protesters by legislating more ways for law enforcement to act with impunity.
In fact, HB 838/AP reads: “A peace officer shall have the right to bring a civil suit against any person, group of persons, organization, or corporation, or the head of an organization or corporation, for damages, either pecuniary or otherwise, suffered during the officer’s performance of official duties, for abridgment of the officer’s civil rights arising out of the officer’s performance of official duties, or for filing a complaint against the officer which the person knew was false when it was filed....”
The “blue line” is now an electric fence—get near it, and you’ll get shocked. The fortress most police departments have become exists as impregnable and invulnerable already; now, Georgia’s lawmakers have chosen to build the Great Wall around it.
According to Techdirt.com, “[This law tries] to turn a person’s career choice into an immutable characteristic, covering some of the most powerful people in the nation into a class that deserves protections from the public these officers are sworn to serve.”
“The legislature,” Techdirt.com continues, “gives officers a way to sue protesters for whatever harms officers feel they’ve suffered while policing demonstrations.” It is, in effect, a hate crime bill for cops. It is also a political slap in the face to a public that demands reform now more than ever. As a law, it is excessively punitive. It has the teeth to penalize a violator with a five-year prison sentence, a $5,000 fine, or both. There already exists laws on the books in Georgia that would inflict penalties on violators who attempt to accost or physically confront police. And in fact, under the “rule of lenity,” the courts are tasked with casting the most favorable light on the defendant regardless of these extra protections.
What will Georgia legislators come up with next? If this is the kind of “reform” the Georgia Legislature is offering during the summer of unrest, the state will be facing a long cold winter.
Source: techdirt.com, washingtonpost.com