Should targeted crimes against police bring “hate crime” enhancements? Red Wing reconsiders

By Javed Basu-Kesselman
Associate Editor, Vol. 21

The city council of Red Wing, Minnesota voted on Monday, October 12 to revisit a previous hate crime resolution. The original resolution, passed September 28, called for federal hate crime protection for police. Noting that police offers have recently become the victims of targeted attacks, council president Dean Hove signed, “Now therefore be it resolved that the City of Red Wing, Minnesota stands together with the Red Wing Police Department and officers nationwide. Together we are united.”

The City Council followed the lead of the Fraternal Order of Police, the nation’s largest police union representing over 300,000 officers. Through formal letters sent in January 2015, they urged President Obama and congressional leaders to expand the hate crime definition to include targeted crimes against law enforcement officers.

Red Wing Police Chief Roger Pohman claims the resolution seeks to address “the violent surge against police” across the U.S. Pohlman cited a Black Lives Matter protest where demonstrators chanted “pigs in a blanket, fry’em like bacon.”

Nekima Levy-Pounds, the NAACP president of the Minneapolis chapter and a spokeswoman for the Minneapolis BLM chapter, defended the demonstrators. She cited a study that revealed Minnesota is the second worst state in the country for black Americans to live.

Jennifer Earl, a University of Arizona professor of sociology, argues that groups afforded protection by hate crime legislation share a history of social disenfranchisement, unlike police officers in this country. The author of the same Truthout article, Aaron Miguel Cantú says this would mark the first time a penalty enhancement would exist against a specific profession. He writes that it would “paradoxically, give legal protection to a group that is notorious for perpetrating violence against the very people that hate crime laws were originally intended to protect.”

Legal scholars have further noted that numerous states already have enhanced laws for crimes against law enforcement. In New Hampshire, for instance, killing an officer is one of a few classes of crimes for which citizens can be put to death. George Washington University Law School professor Jonathan Turley argues that even at this point in time, prosecutors show deference to police officers when charging for crimes against cops.

After the Red Wing vote made national headlines, the council voted to allow the city’s Human Rights Commission to review the resolution at a meeting in November. According to Red Wing Mayor Dan Bender, the measure ended up creating division within the city by creating an “us versus them flavor.” “In Red Wing there shouldn’t be a ‘them,’ it’s just us.” He continued, “And it’s everybody here in town working together for the good of the community.” Bender expressed fear that “perhaps our really well-meant support of the Red Wing Police Department might be unintentionally undermining that support in the community.”

In addition to reconsidering the resolution, Red Wing decided not to send a letter to local legislators requesting that attacks on law enforcement be considered a “crime of bias.” The issue is expected to be revisited following a more detailed discussion of the resolution in the next few weeks, likely alongside the Red Wing Human Rights Commission review.