After a spike in deadly attacks on police, more than a dozen states have responded this year with “Blue Lives Matter” laws that come down even harder on crimes against law enforcement officers, the Associated Press reports. The measures raise concern among some civil rights activists of a potential setback in police-community relations. The laws build up existing statutes allowing harsher sentences for people who kill or assault police. They impose even tougher penalties, extend them to more offenses, including nonviolent ones such as trespassing in Missouri, and broaden the list of victims covered to include off-duty officers, police relatives and some civilians at law enforcement agencies.
Proponents say an escalation of violence against police justifies the heightened protections. “What we’re getting into as a society is that people are targeting police officers not by something that they may have done to them, but just because they’re wearing that uniform,” said Missouri state Rep. Shawn Rhoads, a former detective. People protesting aggressive police tactics are expressing alarm. “This is another form of heightened repression of activists,” said Zaki Baruti, a community organizer from St. Louis County. “It sends a message to protesters that we better not look at police cross-eyed.” Police deaths on the job have declined over the past four decades, from a high of 280 in 1974 to a low of 116 in 2013, says the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. They rose last year to 143, including 21 killed in ambushes — the highest number of such attacks in more than two decades. Nearly all states already have laws enhancing the punishments for certain violent crimes against law officers.