The scope of hate crimes in Texas will expand if a bill to make all attacks on first responders hate crimes becomes law.
The bill introduced in the Texas legislature would increase penalties for attacks against any first responder, including police, firefighters and EMTs, and make them hate crimes.
Texas governor Greg Abbott spoke in favor of making offenses against police officers hate crimes after a sniper killed five police officers in Dallas last July.
The father of one of the slain Dallas police officers is a vocal supporter of the sweeping new hate crime bill, Fox News reported. Rick Zamarripa, the father of Patrick Zamarripa, said he hopes supporting the bill will give new meaning to his son’s death.
Texas has had a hate crimes act for more than 15 years but there are question marks over its use in the criminal justice system.
How Effective is Hate Crime Legislation in Texas?
Texas passed a hate crime stature in 2001. The Texas Department of Public Safety defines these offenses as crimes “motivated by prejudice, hatred, or advocacy of violence.”
These are crimes that show evidence of prejudice by the offender based on religion, race, sexual orientation, ethnicity or disability of the victim. The DPS noted there were 243 such crimes in 2007.
Although hate crimes have a high profile, very few prosecutions are brought under the hate crimes statute and these charges are often dropped as a result of plea bargains.
A report in The Statesman in 2012 pointed out the law had little effect.
The report said from 2001 to 2012, prosecutors earned convictions in just 10 cases — less than one a year statewide. The report quoted figures by the state Office of Court Administration.
Just one hate crime was brought before a jury in Texas in that time. A review of each filing by The Statesman showed use of the hate crimes statute made little difference in the outcome in many of the cases.
The lack of prosecutions has not stopped the backers of the new bill pressing for it to be passed.
Law enforcement groups say the number of police officers killed in 2016 reached its highest level in five years, reported Fox News.
The bill’s main backer is Dallas Representative Jason Villalba who says the legislation would help prevent attacks on police officers of the kind seen in 2016 in Dallas, San Antonio and Baton Rouge.
Over the last year, so-called Blue Lives Matter bills have been introduced in states across the country.
A bill in Oklahoma would introduce a term of mandatory life in prison or the death penalty for anyone who kills a law officer.
In Louisiana, a police chief has suggested even resisting arrest could be classified as a hate crime under a new Blue Lives Matter law.
Opponents of these laws are concerned they are too wide and could dilute the original intent of protecting minorities. The American Civil Liberties Union and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) claim expanding hate-crime laws to include police or other professions like EMTs would dilute the original intent, namely punishing people who intimidate vulnerable sections of the community.