Ald. Ed Burke (14) wants to expand the city’s hate crime ordinance to include police officers, firefighters and other first responders to the list of protected citizens as part of the “Blue Lives Matter” movement.
Burke, along with several other former law enforcement officials on the Council, plan to introduce an ordinance that would charge a person who assaults an active or retired officer or other law enforcement personnel because of their uniform with a hate crime.
As the amendment is currently drafted, any person found unlawfully inciting a riot, or more specifically, a “clear and present danger of a riot or assault, battery or unlawful trespass against” a current or retired first responder would face fines between $25 and $500, and up to six months in prison.
And any individual who commits a “hate crime” as defined under the law, whether it be an assault or destroying personal property, against a first responder would face up to $2,500 in fines, up from the current $500 maximum.
“We need to extend to our first responders every possible protection,” Alderman Burke said in a press release sent yesterday. “Each day police officers and firefighters put their lives on the line to ensure our well-being and security. 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.”
Last month, Louisiana’s Gov. John Bel Edwards signed similar legislation into law after it passed both houses of the majority Republican legislature.
At the federal level, Republican U.S. Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado introduced similar legislation in March called the “Blue Lives Matter Act of 2016.” That measure would make an attack on a police officer a hate crime punishable with up to 10 years in prison or longer if there is a death involved.
Aldermen Willie Cochran (20), Nick Sposato (38), Anthony Napolitano (41), Derrick Curtis (18) and Chris Taliaferro (29), all of whom are former law enforcement officials, are listed as co-sponsors.
A spokesman from Burke’s office told Aldertrack yesterday that no decision has been made on when it will be introduced–or to what committee.
Thomas Ryan, President of Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2, which represents firefighters and paramedics, endorsed the measure in the press release. “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.”
Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 7 President Dean Angelo told Aldertrack that the union is “obviously thankful” for the ordinance. “It’s an anomaly at this particular time with so much anti-law enforcement rhetoric,” he said, adding that they look forward to its passage with all the “anti-police legislation” currently being introduced by people he described as being unfamiliar with what police officers deal with on a daily basis.
Asked if the ordinance would further strain community police relations in Chicago, Angelo said no. “I don’t see how it would be taken in a negative context.”
Activists and police reformers are strongly opposed to the measure, especially in light of recent events over police misconduct.
“This proposal is a distraction from the real conversation we need in Chicago about fundamentally reforming the policing system, which has failed the people of the City. Crimes committed against police because of their status as police are down, not up,” said Karen Sheley, Director of the Police Practices Project at the ACLU of Illinois, in an emailed statement sent to Aldertrack.
“Rather than diverting scarce resources to this non-existent problem, we need to focus sharply on the very real and pressing problem of how to reform policing in Chicago, including rebuilding the trust between the community and the police department. We are in the midst of a grave crisis regarding this trust, and we should be working to insure that the community knows that police will be held accountable when they act improperly. This is a real problem that needs addressing now.”
“It’s a disaster. The efforts to criminalize more people would not work at this particular time…It’s adding nuclear energy to an already tense situation,” said Anton Seals, Jr., an organizer on police accountability issues and a Community and Neighborhood Coordinator at DePaul University. Referencing the Independent Police Review Authority’s recent public disclosure of over 300 video clips that are part of open investigations into police misconduct, Seals said police aren’t the ones who need protection. “It looks like the abuse is the other way around.”
Meanwhile, Chicago activist Rachel Williams of Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100)said they’re not surprised by Burke’s efforts. “When Louisiana passed its bill, we knew that it would go across the board, that [similar measures] would be introduced across the country.”