Although “hate” itself is not a crime, when attached to a crime, the combination may be more than a crime– it may be an aggravating factor that justifies increased punishment. A crime motivated against a person or property by the offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation is a hate crime. Hate crimes are taken seriously in the U.S. According to the FBI 2013 Hate Crime Statistics table, there was a total of 5,928 incidents reported by the states, covering a population of 295,016,072.
Enter the City of Red Wing, Minnesota, a river town on the Mississippi, an hour drive from St. Paul. The city apparently decided to up the ante on crimes committed against police officers, and in the process, redefine and expand the concept of hate crimes. The city passed a resolution “calling for crimes against law enforcement to be prosecutable as hate crimes”.
The startribune.com reported that City Council Vice President said about the quickly passed resolution, “In this case, it’s not the color of their skin, but the color of their uniform.” Also, Red Wing Chief Roger Pohlman, when presenting the resolution reminded council members of the Minnesota State Fair protesters who openly voiced “negative rhetoric toward law enforcement professionals”. Some members of the protest could be heard chanting “Pigs in a blanket, fry’em like bacon.” The resolution disgusted the leader of Black Lives Matter St. Paul, Rashad Turner. “Law enforcement wants to make themselves out to be the victim,” he said, the Tribune reports.
Minnesota, according to the table above, reported 144 incidents of hate crimes (well above the average for the states reporting). Under current Minnesota law, a person who assaults a police officer is already subject to the charge of 4th-degree assault, a felony. The same assault inflicted on a non-police officer would be a misdemeanor.
COMMENT: By any stretch of the imagination, police officers do not fit under the categories of race, religion, disability, ethnic origin, or sexual orientation. A crime committed against a police person might be inflicted by someone who hates the police, but such an act is not tantamount to a hate crime as defined by statutes. The resolution would likely violate due process of law if enforced. The state already has sufficient protections for officers on the books. A felony conviction for assaulting an officer will likely negatively affect the offender (often a young defendant) for decades when it comes to education, housing, and job opportunities. Police officers may be under particular scrutiny these days, in some instances, for practices and actions that have escaped needed attention for decades. They do not need any bogus resolutions to protect them more. As for the chants at the Minnesota State Fair this year, uncomfortable for many fair-goers as there may have been, the city of St. Paul has disorderly conduct statutes they could use if the demonstrator’s speech is deemed unlawful. There seems to be a disconnect between analogizing protest speech and the merits of passing such a tenuous resolution.