Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed a new law providing additional legal protections for police officers, a move that critics say is flawed and not in line with nationwide efforts to make officers more accountable for their actions.
House of Representatives Law No. 838 creates a new crime: bias-motivated intimidation, which may apply to the death or serious bodily injury of a police officer, firefighter, or emergency medical technician. The crime will also be applied anytime someone causes more than $ 500 of damage to property owned by the police, firefighters, or emergency medical technicians due to “actual or perceived work as a first responder.”
The measure was passed alongside a new bill to penalize hate crimes in Georgia. Senate Republicans originally sought to include first responders as a protected class in the Hate Crime Bill, but an angry rebellion by Democrats threatened to thwart this effort, especially as some Republicans opposed the Hate Crime Bill.
In the face of pressure from business groups and the potential for national embarrassment following the death of Ahmed Arbari in February – which federal authorities are investigating as a possible hate crime for whites and blacks – legislative leaders have agreed to strip first responder protection from the hate crime bill. But Republicans separately drafted a police protection bill with almost no democratic support.
Although granting more police protection conflicts with the national climate to demand more police accountability after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, it was not surprising that Kemp signed on to the measure. He has repeatedly called for Georgia to “support the color blue” and the National Guard to protect state office buildings after gunmen shot a girl on July 4 during a protest at the site of a fast food restaurant where Atlanta police shot him a black man named Rayshard Brooks a month the previous. Kemp emphasized that the city of Atlanta cannot provide adequate protection.
“The House 838 Bill is a step forward as we work to protect those who risk their lives to protect us,” Kemp said in a statement on Wednesday after signing the measure. “While some maim our men and women, target them, and attack them in military uniform for personal or political gain, this legislation clearly reminds us that Georgia is a country that supports Azraq unapologetically.”
This crime is punishable by imprisonment from one to five years and a fine of up to $ 5,000. The procedure states that the punishment must be stacked above any other criminal conviction and cannot be filed at the same time and that each violation should be a separate offense. This can lead to lengthy penalties for violations such as sabotage against officers.
This procedure also allows police officers to file lawsuits against any person, company, or group for violating the civil rights of the officer “arising from the duty of the officer performing his official duties” or to make a false complaint against an officer.
The opponents said that this measure is not necessary, partly because Georgian lawmakers several years ago added tougher penalties for assaulting a police officer.
“Georgia law already contains more than adequate protection for police officers,” said Andrea Young, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Georgia. “HB 838 was hurriedly drafted as a direct criticism of the Georgians participating in the Black Life protests that were affirming their constitutional rights.”
In an effort to persuade the governor to veto the measure, the American Civil Liberties Union argued that the way the bill was written, it could have an unintended effect on reducing the sentence for the murder of a police officer from mandatory imprisonment to a maximum of five years now defined in law. Supporters say this will not happen.