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Police don’t need more protections — they need to build trust with black America


When I worked as a St. Louis police officer, I knew I functioned in a criminal justice system that – with rare exceptions – protects law enforcement at all costs. Though I am no longer an officer, this is still true today.

Take the case of St. Louis police officer, Jason Stockley, who was acquitted in September for the murder of Anthony Lamar Smith. I wasn’t on the St. Louis police force at the time of Smith’s killing, but I could have predicted the events that ensued.

In 2011, during a vehicle pursuit of Smith, Officer Stockley allegedly announced to dispatchers over police radio that he was going to kill the 24-year old black man. At the conclusion of the chase, he eventually followed through on his word and shot Smith to death. After fatally shooting him, Stockley moved back and forth between Smith’s Buick and the back seat of his patrol car. Stockley had at least one extra, unauthorized weapon at the time. He claimed to have recovered a .38-caliber revolver from Smith’s rented vehicle, but the gun had only Stockley’s DNA on it.

Despite a host of other questionable accounts from Stockley’s story, he was ultimately acquitted for Smith’s murder by a judge as he’d opted for a trial without a jury.

The trial of Jason Stockley was a rare moment in which a police officer was actually charged and tried for the shooting a civilian to death. But, Stockley’s acquittal, even in light of his allegedly expressed intent to kill Smith (Stockely’s attorney denied the comments were said, according to court records) was an unexceptional outcome in a justice system where black lives are effectively discarded in the course of police work.

This National Police Week, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) introduced the Protect and Serve Act of 2018. The bill proposes, for the first time, to make it a hate crime to “knowingly cause bodily injury” to any person because of their actual or perceived status as a police officer. Hate crime laws are meant to protect historically oppressed minority groups such as people of color and women. This new law, however, would treat law enforcement as a new protected class.

The rallying calls for this law come at a time when organizations and movements to protect black lives are prominently advancing their cause. There’s a persistent and false narrative used to attack these groups, which dishonestly suggests that those who try to safeguard the lives of people of color are encouraging harm against police officers. But when an entire community pours into the streets to decry the killing of Anthony Lamar Smith or any other black person wrongly killed at the hands of the very people meant to protect them, that community isn’t persecuting police officers. It is wondering why the protections of the Constitution and its promise of justice don’t extend to them.

The bill is intended to distract, raising the false flag that there is a war on police. To be clear, there isn’t, and this myth has been repeatedly debunked. Killings of police officers and ambush attacks are at near historic lows. The year 2013 was the safest year for police officers in recorded history, and data from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund shows that in 2017, officers killed on duty in firearms-related incidents declined by 33 percent from 2016.

Not only is this a cynical political ploy, the law would be unnecessary: Federal law and all 50 states already have extremely tough penalties for violent crimes against police officers, including the death penalty. Expanding hate crimes laws that have often been used to protect people of color from violence motivated by racial prejudice, including police violence, is a particularly cynical policy choice given the extraordinary protections and immunities that police already have.

In the current environment, this legislation threatens to worsen divisions between police and the communities they serve as well as entirely failing to improve officer safety, making this a remarkably irresponsible legislative strategy. A far better approach to ensuring the safety of police officers, and improving police-community relations would be to continue the bi-partisan criminal justice reform effort that, until recently, was getting smart on crime and promised improved police-community relations. That takes leadership. Now is the time to lead.

Redditt Hudson is the vice president of Civil Rights and Advocacy at the Urban League in St. Louis. He is a former St. Louis police officer. 

Tags Black Lives Matter Lamar Smith Police police brutality Prevention Safety

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