A proposed bill would expand Oklahoma’s hate crime laws to cover people who work in law enforcement and corrections facilities and allow for harsher penalties for those convicted.
Under Senate Bill 96, proposed by Sen. Darrell Weaver, R-Moore, knowingly inciting violence or performing an action likely to incite violence against a law enforcement officer, correctional officer or correction employee would be considered a hate crime.
Additionally, the proposed bill would amend state law to allow the state to punish those convicted of hate crimes against law enforcement with death or life without parole in prison.
Weaver, the former director of the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, said the idea for the bill was spurred by a 2016 attack wherein 11 police officers were shot and five were killed by two snipers during a protest of officer-involved shootings in downtown Dallas.
“That just haunted me for a long time,” Weaver said.
Weaver said though any injury toward law enforcement is unfortunate, what concerns him the most is officers getting injured by people targeting them solely based on their employment.
Currently, Oklahoma’s hate crime statute covers crimes motivated by hatred of a victim’s “race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin or disability.” The law does not address hate crimes based on gender identity or sexual orientation.
Oklahoma already has laws that elevate penalties for those convicted of assaulting law enforcement, however punishments for those crimes are lesser than those proposed under Weaver’s bill.
If the bill were to pass, those convicted of a hate crime against law enforcement would be guilty of a felony and could receive a sentence of death or life without parole. Other hate crimes, such as those motivated by race or religion, are typically charged as a misdemeanor.
Weaver said he believes an attack on law enforcement “is an attack on the very fiber of our society.” He said he’s willing to work with law enforcement associations and other legislators to improve on the bill.
Two Oklahoma officers were killed in 2017 and 946 officers were assaulted (217 with injury), according to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation.
Oklahoma isn’t the only state where lawmakers have considered making attacks on police officers hate crimes.
Louisiana became the first state to enact such a law in 2016. Texas passed a bill in 2017 that gave police officers an extra layer of protection. A lawmaker in New York proposed a similar bill in 2017. The bill was passed by the Senate but did not get through the assembly.
The federal Protect and Serve Act, introduced in early 2018, would impose federal penalties for anyone who purposely attacked a police officer. One version of the bill would have made police a protected class under hate crime law. The bill passed the U.S. House but not the Senate.
That bill, and similar state bills, have been met with criticism by groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union.
In a press release in May 2018, the ACLU said the federal bill “serves no purpose other than to further dangerous and divisive narratives that there is a ‘war on police.'”