The Mississippi Senate approved its version of a law that would make crimes against police officers, firefighters and EMTs subject to the same enhanced penalties as crimes that target members of racial and ethnic groups, or hate crimes.
Senators debated for about two hours Thursday morning, which was emotional and tense at times.
Senate Bill 2469 states: “The penalty for any felony or misdemeanor shall be subject to enhancement … if the felony or misdemeanor was committed with the sole intent to target an individual or group because of actual or perceived employment as a law enforcement officer, firefighter or emergency medical technician.”
An amendment changed the word “sole” to “specific.”
Several African American senators expressed qualms with the bill, which they believed could embolden police officers to target individuals, especially young black males.
“You haven’t walked in our shoes,” said Sen. Barbara Blackmon, D-Canton, who has two adult sons. “You don’t have to be concerned when your teenagers are out and being stopped by police.”
Sen. Sean Tindell, R-Gulfport, responded to the concerns of the black lawmakers by noting that race is already included as a protected class.
“Law enforcement is not excluded from hate crimes statute,” Tindell said.
Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves praised the bill in a statement sent out immediately after passage.
“Mississippians have great respect for our men and women who risk their lives on the job every day,” Reeves said in the statement. “Officers, firefighters and medical workers often face unknown dangers on the job. Anyone who commits a crime against these brave individuals should be punished to the fullest extent of the law.”
A House committee passed a similar version of the bill earlier in the day that makes violent crimes against first responders a capital offense.