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Some Aldermen Want To Make Attacking A Cop A Hate Crime In Chicago

By aaroncynic in News on Jun 8, 2016 3:25PM

By Aaron Cynic/Chicagoist
An ordinance proposed to City Council this week could expand hate crimes protections to firefighters, paramedics and cops.

Currently, Chicago’s hate crime law applies to individuals targeted based on their race, religion, sex, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, prior military status, ancestry or age. On Monday, Alderman Ed Burke introduced a bill that would add “past or current employment as a law enforcement officer, firefighter, or emergency medical services personnel” to the list, reports ABC7.

“Each day police officers and firefighters put their lives on the line to ensure our well-being and security,” Burke said in a press release. “It is the goal of this ordinance to give prosecutors and judges every tool to punish those who interfere with, or threaten or physically assault, our public safety personnel.”

The ordinance, published by Aldertrack, would also increase fines for those convicted of attacking first responders and would add a six-month jail sentence. Existing Illinois law already classifies the assault of a police officer as a class 4 felony, which could come with a 3 year prison term and 25 year prison sentence. The ordinance also comes with companion resolution which encourages Springfield lawmakers to create similar legislation for the state.

Chicago’s ordinance is similar to a law in Louisiana which passed last month dubbed the “blue lives matter” bill. Lawmakers in Tennessee are also considering passing “blue lives matter” legislation. According to the Washington Post, no other state has given police officers and other public safety employees protected status, but at least 37 other states have additional penalties for assaulting a police officer.

“This ordinance will provide added protection to first responders who risk their lives in service to others while also adding consequences for those who feel compelled to attack them in the performance of their duty,” said Thomas Ryan, President of Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2.

But while the police and other public safety officers are cheering Burke’s proposal, other groups say it’s a distraction at best, and could have negative effects on groups working for police reform at worst.

“Existing laws appropriately penalize acts of violence against a police officer or other first responder. This proposed ordinance is a distraction from the conversation we need in Chicago about fundamentally reforming the policing system, which has failed the people of the City,” Karen Sheley, Director of the Police Practices Project at the ACLU of Illinois wrote in an email to Chicagoist.

Alan Mills, Executive Director of the Uptown People’s Law Center, said the ordinance is more of a symbol. "This is a symbolic act by Burke, completely in line with his 40-plus year record of defending police officers' even in the face of rampant misconduct, because in reality, the state charge is already a class 4 felony, & any municipal ordinance won't affect that,” said Mills. “The only effect this will have is to give the city the ability to charge someone with an ordinance violation (which is less than a misdemeanor) for cases that the state decides not to prosecute but the city wishes to. That would be an extremely unusual circumstance."

Though the number of officers fatally shot in the line of duty has dropped significantly since the 1970’s, the sentiment that police are somehow “under attack” has risen dramatically in the wake of national protests surrounding the shootings of people of color. Last year, Mayor Rahm Emanuel famously said that the “Ferguson effect”—the idea that police are supposedly not engaging people because of being called out for bad behavior —was making police “fetal.”

It’s that symbolism—that somehow demanding accountability of police who have killed numerous people of color with little or no repercussions and demonstrating over it could be perceived as a hate crime—that has some activists worried.

“This is an attempt to intimidate the movement for community control of the police by suggesting that protests against police crimes are hate crimes,” said Ted Pearson of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression in an interview with Chicagoist. “The intention is to suggest police are somehow being victimized by rhetoric and agitation against police crimes/for police accountability and they need this law to protect them.”

Pearson also noted that many of the cosponsors on the bill are former officers themselves, such as Ald. Willie Cochran. CAARPR has been pushing for an elected civilian police accountability board—something that would go much further than some of Emanuel’s proposed reforms—and Pearson says they’ve received a large amount of support from Cochran’s ward.

“Do we really need this bill? Is there any evidence?” asked Pearson. “Why do we need this if it’s not for intimidating the movement?”

CAARPR is planning a demonstration at City Hall on June 22, the same day the Council will discuss Emanuel’s proposed reforms.

“People in the communities that live under a virtual police state are demanding real community control,” said Frank Chapman, a field organizer with the group.