Black Lives Matter protesters failed in an attempt to shout down members of the Kentucky House of Representatives on Monday as they voted to approve new legal protections for first responders and police.
House members approved House Bill 14, a so-called Blue Lives Matter bill, in a 77-13 vote as activists in the gallery overlooking the house chamber repeatedly chanted “Black Lives Matter” to voice their opposition, the Courier-Journal reports.
The bill, now on its way to the Senate, follows similar legislation approved in Louisiana that makes it an official hate crime to attack police and first responders because of their occupation. The measure is aimed and deterring fatal ambushes of police officers that have more common in recent years amid protests by Black Lives Matter groups and other organizations over police-involved shootings.
State Rep. Kevin Bratcher, the bill’s sponsor, said he was inspired in part by the shocking ambush in Dallas last summer that left five officers dead and numerous others wounded, WFPL reports.
“You guys don’t know what’s in my heart and I don’t know what’s in your heart, but I don’t know how anybody could vote against this bill,” Bratcher said on the House floor Monday, adding that the conversation about the issues has gone off on “tangents.”
Lexington Republican state Rep. Robert Benvenuti explained that the intent of the legislation is simple.
“The message you will send with a yes vote today is that you will not tolerate the hunting of first responders, of the men and women who will come and lay down their lives for you,” he said.
Black Lives Matter activists, of course, have a different take on the legislation.
Chanelle Helm, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Louisville, told the Courier-Journal last week the Blue Lives Matter bill is “so insensitive to the community of color and people who hate crime laws actually represent.”
WFLP reports Black Lives Matter activists who attended the House floor vote Monday attempted to shout down the proceedings, but were escorted out of the House gallery by state police.
Helm told the news site after the vote that the Blue Lives Matter bill is an act of racism by white Republicans.
“I think we do need to understand where racism comes from and how it was created, and how bills like this are meant to further divide,” she said.
State Democrats also condemned the bill during discussions Monday.
“I’m concerned that HB 14 will give this kind of fearmongering a license to charge me with a hate crime for doing what my ancestors did during the Civil Rights Movement — standing up for the diversity of our state and the most vulnerable of our communities,” Rep. Attica Scott said, according to WFPL.
Louisville Democrat Rep. Jim Wayne argued that the state already has some penalties for crimes against police, and the state’s hate crime laws should be reserved for those targeted because of their “birth or beliefs,” the Courier-Journal reports.
Wayne contends the bill supports a false choice between supporting first responders or the black community.
Republican state Rep. John Blanton countered Wayne’s claims.
“It’s not about Blue Lives Matter,” he said. “How about we call this ‘First Responders Matter?’”
“You don’t just take the uniform off and lay it down,” Blanton said. “It’s part of who you are.”
“There’s no hypocrisy here. There’s no false choice here, this doesn’t need to be psychoanalyzed,” Benvenuti added. “This simply says if you execute our first responders you will be treated as committing what you did – a hate crime.”
Rep. Jeff Hoover told Spectrum News he was frustrated with the Black Lives Matter protesters who disrupted the proceedings, but noted they didn’t deter the final result.
“There was a very good civil debate on the floor, a very good discussion … really good points raised by those both for and against House Bill 14, but I guess what bothered me the most was this was an orchestrated plan by them all along – you could tell, for them to walk out and hold up their posters and make the scene that they did which was very rude and disrespectful to the members on the house floor – that’s what bothers me the most.
“But we waited until they were escorted out and proceeded with business,” he said.