At the end of last week, leading Republicans in the Senate introduced the Back the Badge Act of 2017, along with related measures, that increase penalties for someone convicted of an assault involving law enforcement officers. The House introduced their own version of these “blue lives matter” laws last week as well.
If you are of the mindset that police make all of us safer, then these bills perhaps seem innocuous.
Just three weeks ago, a black father in Atlanta, DeAundre Phillips, was shot and killed by Atlanta Police Department officers. He had driven with friends to the record-keeping office of the APD, in order to pick up some documents. The plainclothes officers that ultimately shot and killed him, claimed they smelled marijuana, and attempted to enter the vehicle. The family has expressed their disbelief, with their attorney saying, “It just doesn’t add up, none of this makes any sense. A man that goes to a police station on purpose, suddenly starts smoking weed in the parking lot, fights off some cops, and tries to drive away?”
So far, the Atlanta Police Department has not been responsive to requests to see video of the incident or to release the names of the officers involved.
We live in a world where people chant “black lives matter,” because it is clear that black folks are regularly stripped of their humanity and far too easily see their deaths justified. And unlike being a police officer, being black isn’t a job, it isn’t a uniform that someone takes off at the end of the day.
A young boy with a toy gun — a child — gets shot, a man working as a caretaker for someone with autism gets shot lying down with his hands in the air, an older woman gets shot in her own home. These are all cases where police officers later told the public they believed they were in danger and were justified in shooting these people. All of these folks are black.
My fear is that, at best, these “blue lives matter” laws will lead to more black people unjustly being tangled up in this nation’s broken criminal justice system. At worst, these laws will give more cover when police officers injure or kill people.
Georgia’s “Back the Badge” bill, along with a host of other measures, increase penalties if someone is convicted of an assault on police officers. “Back the Badge,” in particular, is built around aggravated assault or aggravated battery on a police officer. These are laws based on intent or the possibility — whether or not it actually happens — that a police officer could be injured by the object in someone’s hand (or believes they could be). Police officers both in this state and around the nation have repeatedly demonstrated their belief that even unarmed black people are dangerous; and have been able to justify extrajudicial murder.
Bills to end the rampant overuse of no-knock warrants, equip police officers with body cameras, and introduce more oversight and accountability into the way police operate have not even received hearings. And while “Back the Badge” was only introduced at the end of last week, other measures that further entrench the rights of current and retired law enforcement officers to keep their weapons and their badge, and further risk the use of deadly force, have already successfully made it out of the Senate and are headed to the House.
I understand the appeal of these “blue lives matter” bills. There is a desire to protect the police officers that, particularly for many of the white legislators, represent the front-lines of safety, security and protection.
But for folks like Georgia’s own Anthony Hill — an unarmed veteran shot while experiencing a manic episode — and, most recently, DeAundre Phillips, the police do not bring safety and security, and, in fact, tend to view some of the people they are entrusted to help as a threat. Even when they have no weapons and even when they have no motive.
Safety is something everyone should have in their lives, and creating laws that further justify the arrest or shooting of unarmed black people by police is not a way to get there.