“Blue Lives Matter”
Last May, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards signed the “Blue Lives Matter” bill into law. In effect, it treats crimes against first responders as hate crimes. A similar bill, with the same name, is being considered in Maine right now.
Before I get too deep into this, I want to clarify a couple of things. First of all, the term “first responders,” as defined in this bill, refers to police and sheriff’s deputies, firefighters, wardens, and emergency medical services (EMS) workers. But it’s not called “First Responders Matter.” It’s called the “Blue Lives Matter” bill. So we’re really talking about the police here, and it should be known that law enforcers already have more protection under the law than the average citizen does. For example, a simple assault in Maine is a Class D crime (a misdemeanor). There are only two reasons a simple assault would get elevated to a Class C crime (a felony): if the victim is under six years old, or if the victim is a police officer. That’s right: Cops already have as much legal protection as the smallest and weakest among us.
So, hate crime? In Maine, hate crimes are crimes that have been committed against people because of their race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, physical or mental disability, or sexual orientation. Please notice that “job” isn’t anywhere on that list. That’s because the factors on that list are (with the limited exception of religion) not choices, but a job is.
I can’t speak to every lived experience on that list, but I can tell you that being black does not pay me. Being black does not come with benefits. Being black does not come with a union membership. It does not put me in a position of authority. It does not give me a license to kill. And also — and this is a real important one — I can’t quit being black. The point is, there is no such thing as a “blue” life.
And let’s be clear about that phrase. Just as “White Power!” was a response to “Black Power!” Blue Lives Matter is a response to Black Lives Matter. And while Blue Lives Matter may not be the KKK, it’s important not to forget that their memberships overlap. When Anonymous infiltrated the Klan in the fall of 2015 and started unmasking Klansmen, the hacker group’s first step was to “friend” Blue Lives Matter supporters on Facebook — the site’s algorithm then led them to numerous (other) Klansmen. Also, unlike Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter is not a chapter-based national organization. According to its website, Blue Lives Matter is a media company — a not-so-veiled racist media company.
So, here we are with a bill in the Maine Legislature that shares its name with a racist media company. Because it offers police extra legal protection that they already have, it’s also redundant. So, it’s insulting and pointless, but maybe the police think it’s necessary and they’re lobbying for it to pass? Probably not — neither the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, nor the Maine Sheriffs’ Association, have publicly commented on the bill, much less endorsed it. So, maybe it’s a high-priority safety issue? Probably not — the job of police officer doesn’t even crack the list of the top ten deadliest occupations in America. Taxi drivers in this country are murdered at almost twice the rate of police officers, but I haven’t heard of any state proposing a “Yellow-And-Black-Checkered Lives Matter” bill.
What harm could this bill do? I mean, aside from undermining the very concept of civil rights and putting a law with a racist name on our state’s books? Well, plenty.
Let’s go back to Louisiana, where this whole thing started. Back in January, St. Martinville Police Chief Calder Hebert said his force can now add a felony hate crime charge to the lesser charge of resisting arrest. Now think of all the videos out there in which cases of apparent police brutality have been rebutted by false charges of resisting arrest. And consider that you can be arrested for resisting arrest without being charged with any other crime. Imagine a young man in jail on a false felony hate-crime charge of resisting arrest. Visions of Kalief Browder…
No one wants an adversarial relationship between civilians and police, but a redundant bill with a racist name that gives cops legal protections they didn’t ask for, while weakening the very concept of civil rights, can only create adversaries.
Please call your state representatives. Tell them this bill has no place here.
Samuel James is an internationally renowned bluesman and storyteller, as well as a locally known filmmaker. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.