Governor Brian Kemp, 83rd Governor of Georgia, welcomed the Georgia National and Georgia State Defense Force to National Guard Day at the Georgia State Capitol, Atlanta on March 28, 2019. The celebration recognized the service of the men and women of the Georgia Guard who currently and previously served as well as their families. U.S. Army National Guard photo by Spc. Tori Miller.

LGBTQ and Civil Rights Advocates Criticize Passage of Georgia Police Protection Bill

As a compromise to pass Georgia’s first hate crimes bill, Governor Brian Kemp has signed a proposal into law granting police new protections, a move LGBTQ, racial, and civil rights advocacy groups are criticizing.

HB 838, which Kemp signed on Wednesday (August 5), creates a new offense of “bias motivated intimidation” of a police officer or other first responder, according to the AJC. Anyone found guilty of death, serious bodily harm, or destruction of more than $500 worth of property of a first responder because of their occupation, would face one to five years in prison and/or a fine of up to $5,000.

However, many advocates claim the legislation, which was hastily written, actually weakens some protections for officers while having unintended consequences.

“In their haste to silence Georgians’ demand for police accountability, the state Legislature has produced a severely flawed bill that may substantially reduce penalties for deliberately killing a police officer,” Andrea Young, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, told the AJC. “[…]HB 838 was hastily drafted as a direct swipe at Georgians participating in the Black Lives Matter protests who were asserting their constitutional rights.”

Young claims the measure could reduce potential prisons sentences for the murder of a police officer from mandatory life in prison to a maximum of five years. However, the bill also grants officers broader authority to sue people, groups, or corporations that infringe on their civil rights, something advocates worry will affect street protestors.

The bill was introduced by Republicans as a compromise to getting Georgia’s hate crimes bill passed, which enhances sentencing for crimes targeting victims due to their “race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender, mental disability, or physical disability.” The passage of the bill was a landmark move—prior to its passage, Georgia was one of only four states without hate crimes protections—but the Georgia NAACP says it is “now-tainted” by the subsequent police protection bill.

The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ civil rights organization, spoke out against the bill on Twitter, claiming that the treatment of employment as a targetable identity is “blatantly offensive.”

“Equating police officers’ employment status with discrimination and violence Black people, LGBTQ people, religious minorities, women, and other marginalized communities face is blatantly offensive and threatens the safety and liberties of the people first responders are sworn to protect,” the organization tweeted on Thursday (August 6).