Should Killing A Cop Be A Hate Crime?

With the deaths of NYPD officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu casting a long shadow over the city of New York and its police, there's been a lot of reflection going on, both angry and somber. And now, the head of the National Fraternal Order of Police is making a very public call for legislation to be drafted in response — the national police union wants cop killers charged with hate crimes. The demand is being made in a letter the union will send to President Obama as well as members of Congress sometime this week.

While the union is obviously always going to be motivated to expand legal powers over alleged or would-be killers of police officers, there's no doubt that this latest call was spurred by the deaths of Liu and Ramos. A lot of ink's been spilled on the response from the city's police union and their officers since then, with public protests of Mayor Bill de Blasio simmering throughout the force, and a virtual work stoppage dropping policing in the city to lower levels than any other time in recent memory. Even all that, however, represents a sort of localized rebuke on the part of the NYPD — the national police union, on the other hand, is requesting a change to federal law.

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To be clear, the specific demand being made isn't that all shootings of police officers should fall under a hate crimes statute, but just the ones which appear motivated by a deliberate hatred or targeting of police. It's not a new proposal, as Talking Points Memo notes, but with this issue visible in the national spotlight, the police union is taking it up again. According to Yahoo News, the union's director Jim Pasco laid out his rationale pretty plainly — make the blue uniform a protected class under hate crimes laws.

Right now, it’s a hate crime if you attack someone solely because of the color of their skin, but it ought to be a hate crime if you attack someone solely because of the color of their uniform as well.

If this change were actually embraced, it would be a dramatic shift away from how federal hate crimes are designated at present. Right now, such laws come into play on the grounds of race, skin color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, and national origin.

However sympathetic you may feel to the police, especially after this harrowing instance of violence, this would represent a sea change, and set a major, potentially problematic precedent. Expanding the field of possible hate crimes to cover not just who you are, but what you do for a living — could an anti-carbohydrate zealot commit a hate crime against a baker, for example? It's a fair question to ask, but not one which should be taken lightly or answered reflexively.

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There's also a case to be made that, while the work of policing is undeniably dangerous, cop killers are almost always already subject to the utmost punishment, with massive resources dedicated to tracking them down, and the moral force of entire cities urging for their swift, uncompromising prosecution — the opposite situation from what's motivated the recent protests against the NYPD. As such, you could argue that reforming the law to impose more penalties after an officer was killed is somewhat beside the point.

But both President Obama and a number of congressional leaders will have the union's letter gracing their desks all the same, and it'll be up to them to decide how to proceed. According to Yahoo News, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told assembled reporters Monday that the idea was "something that we'll have to consider."

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