House Votes 382 to 35 for “Blue Lives Matter” Bill, a Dangerous Solution in Search of a Problem

Since the shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri, by a police officer, there has been heightened national attention to issues of police brutality, much to the credit of the Black Lives Matter movement. With the popularization of cell phone cameras, numerous incidences of police shooting or aggressive handling of unarmed black men and women have been caught on video and are able to go viral. The victims of such violence rarely see justice, as our courts, for various reasons of bias, are predisposed to side with the police, regardless of how counter to evidence their story may be.

Police officers and their political allies have tried to respond to this upsurge of attention to and protest by claiming that there is a “war on cops,” that being a cop is more dangerous than ever, and that such protesters are putting police officers’ lives at risk (rather than vice versa), and that criticism of police is leading to a surge in crime. All of this has been disproved by statistics.

Enter Congress.

Yesterday, the House passed a bill that buys into the police narrative of a “war on cops” and threatens to harm any efforts at meaningful reform.

The bill, the Protect and Serve Act, would create a new *federal* penalty of up to 10 years for assaulting a police officer.

A letter from the ACLU, the People for the American Way, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the NAACP, and more than 20 other groups laid out clearly the problems with this bill.

(1) It’s a solution in search of a problem. There are already ample federal and state laws that provide protections for police officers, and there is no record that crimes against police are going unpunished.

(2) It does nothing to accomplish any stated policy goal. As I noted earlier, the number of officers assaulted or killed on duty has fallen in recent years. And the bill offers no funding for any safety measures, supervision, or training that might actually advance the purported goal.

(3) It harms police-community relations and threatens the well-being of activists and community members. For the very reasons I outlined above: it shows members of communities that have been overpoliced and discriminated against that Congress doesn’t think their lives matter and buys into the false narrative being peddled by police.

Moreover, as Radley Balko notes in the Washington Post, “an assault on a police officer charge is often used a cudgel — it’s a way of dissuading legitimate victims of police brutality from filing complaints. If such an assault charge could soon come with an additional federal charge punishable by up to 10 years in prison, that cudgel grows by about 10 sizes.”

The bill passed 382 to 35, with 24 Democrats and 11 Republicans opposing it. Republican opposition was largely due to the federalization of crime statutes.

Here are the 35:

It was disappointing to see that a number of representatives who are usually progressive stalwarts — like Keith Ellison (MN-05), Raul Grijalva (AZ-03), and Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), among others — voted for this shameful bill.