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Self-defense against a police officer could soon be a hate crime

A measure known as the "Protect and Serve Act" is steadily making its way through Congress — and it could be a step closer to eroding the rights that citizens enjoy under the U.S. Constitution.

The Act has already passed the House and now moves on to the Senate. If it is eventually made into law, as is widely expected, police officers will become a newly-protected class of citizens. That means that they'll be afforded additional protections similar to ethnic minorities, religious groups and others that are often the target of hate crimes.

At least superficially, the Act sounds like something that most people can support. It's hard to argue with the idea that attacking a police officer should be a serious crime. Defendants would face up to a life sentence for kidnapping, killing or threatening an officer of the law. However, a federal law that does that is largely unnecessary, since there are severe penalties at the state level for the same thing.

The Act also does something else — it makes assaulting a police officer in any way that injures or even attempts to injure that officer a federal crime. It won't matter if your act was intentional. It won't matter if you were somehow justified. Either way, you can end up serving a 10-year sentence.

Why is that a problem? Why are defense attorneys and those concerned with the civil liberties of individuals critical of the Act? Because it slaps extraordinary penalties on people for inconsequential acts. Also, unscrupulous police officers could wield tremendous power over virtually anyone simply by claiming they were assaulted. Since it doesn't matter how slight the damage, it would largely be the officer's word against the defendant's.

In an era where there has been an increased spotlight on police brutality, this is more than troubling. Proponents of the Act point to the fact that 21 police officers have been killed between the first of the year and mid-May. Critics point out that 356 citizens have died in that same period.

Under the Act, merely pushing an officer aside as you try to avoid being beaten with a baton would count as a federal crime. Even if you were wrongfully arrested, you could go to jail for a decade. That hardly seems reasonable or justifiable.

Source: Reason, "New Hate Crime Bill Protecting Cops Passes House Despite Clear 10th Amendment Violation: Reason Roundup," Elizabeth Nolan Brown, May 17, 2018

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