By Caleb Bedillion

Daily Journal

Critics of a so-called “Blue Lives Matter” bill making its way through the state legislature say the proposed law is unneeded and ignores the pressing need for reform of law enforcement practices.

A state Senate committee voted Tuesday to advance a bill that makes law enforcement and first responder workers a protected class under state hate crime laws.

However, the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi believes the bill is unnecessary

“There is absolutely no evidence that it will make police safer,” said ACLU Mississippi Director Jennifer Riley-Collins in a statement released Tuesday. “Statistics show that violence against police is down. There are already severe, enhanced penalties for assaults on officers in Mississippi.”

Statistics of law enforcement officers depict a general decline since a high in the 1970s.

The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund reported that 135 officers were killed in 2016, the highest such total for the last five years.

The 2016 death total, however, remained below the death totals seen throughout much of the previous four decades.

Riley-Collins additionally told the Daily Journal that the legislation could create an opening for crackdowns on protected speech.

After Louisiana enacted a “Blue Lives Matter” law, a New Orleans man was charged under it in September for shouting racial slurs and obscenities while he was arrested for a separate offense.

“His speech, while perceived as offensive by the officer, is protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution,” said Riley-Collins. “So, here we have true harm against everyday people for behavior that’s protected but perceived as an assault.”

The ACLU is pushing a package of legislative measures including a requirement that special prosecutors handle police-involved shootings.

The bill approved by a senate judiciary committee Tuesday was authored by Sen. Philip Moran. However, Lee County’s Sen. Chad McMahan, R-Guntown, also authored similar legislation.

“We will give judges and juries an opportunity to consider enhanced penalties,” McMahan said. “We are trying to do something to protect the men and women who put themselves on the line to protect us.”

McMahan’s bill has not yet been considered by a legislative committee, but he still thinks it will advance.

“I still feel very confidently that we will find a compromise and combine those bills,” said the Guntown senator.

McMahan’s bill allows for enhanced penalties for crimes committed against uniformed first responders.

The bill passed out of committee this week did not include the “uniformed” restriction.

Both bills provide that imprisonment and fines may be enhanced up to a maximum of twice the normal limits for crimes committed against someone because of the victim’s “actual or perceived employment as a law enforcement officer, firefighter or emergency medical technician.”

McMahan did not appear to take the ACLU’s criticism very seriously.

Said the first-term senator, “When you have a wreck or need help on the side of the road you don’t call the ACLU. you call police officers. When your house is on fire you don’t call the ACLU.”

Twitter: @CalebBedillion

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