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Should Police be a Protected Category?

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While most states have hate crime statutes, only  about five include law enforcement officers as a protected category. Utah is one of these states and a recent case has attracted the media spotlight. After a traffic stop for speeding, Lauren Gibson is alleged to have stomped on a “Back the Blue” sign while “smirking in an intimidating manner” at a deputy. She has been charged with criminal mischief, which could result in up to a year in jail. Far more seriously, Gibson could be charged with a hate crime for her actions. These leads to two issues. The first is a specific matter: should her actions be taken as constituting a hate crime? The second is a general matter: should law enforcement be a protected category in the context of hate crime statutes? While the legal debate is best left to legal experts, I can certainly consider the text of the law and assess whether it seems reasonable to interpret her actions as a hate crime. According to the Utah law, a hate crime occurs when a person commits an offense “with the intent to intimidate or terrorize another person or with reason to believe that his action would intimidate or terrorize that person.” And, of course, the person must be in a protected category. So, for example, if I went to Utah and was recognized as a philosophy professor and a crowd attempted to terrorize or intimidate me because of this, it would not be a hate crime. If the same crowd did the same sort of thing to a police officer who was with me, then that would be a hate crime. That is how protected categories work. Given that Gibson is a 19-year-old woman who was unarmed at the time of the incident, it seems unlikely that she would believe she could intimidate an armed deputy. While she probably did not know it at the time, the deputy is a veteran of the department and had seen combat duty while serving in the military. One could, of course, argue that she did think she could intimidate and terrorize him by stomping on a. . .

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News source: A Philosopher's Blog

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