This article has been re-printed with permission from the Spokesman-Review, a FāVS media partner
By Pia Hallenberg
Enough is enough. It’s got to stop.
That’s what Jeanette Gerber-Rockstrom thought when she woke up and learned another law enforcement officer had lost his life in the line of duty, this time in Tacoma.
“It’s getting closer and closer to home,” Gerber-Rockstrom said. “It can happen here too.”
Last week, Gerber-Rockstrom launched a petition on Change.org because she wants to make the intentional killing of a law enforcement officer a hate crime.
“They are specifically being targeted by people because of who they are and being killed,” Gerber-Rockstrom said. “Just like if they were targeted for being black or disabled.”
Gerber-Rockstrom, who works as a clerk at Inland Imaging, said she’s always been very supportive of law enforcement. Her sister and her niece are married to law enforcement officers.
Washington law defines a hate crime – or malicious harassment – as a malicious and intended act against another citizen because of the perpetrator’s perception of the victim’s race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, or mental, physical, or sensory handicap.
Gerber-Rockstrom wants law enforcement officers added to that list.
“It’s unacceptable that law enforcement isn’t included,” Gerber-Rockstrom said. She added that she’d like to see “an automatic death penalty” for someone who intentionally kills a law enforcement officer.
Washington’s newly re-elected Governor Jay Inslee issued a moratorium on the death penalty in the state in 2014.
Crimes against law enforcement are already considered an aggravated offense, so making them hate crimes may not make a difference when it comes to penalty.
Gerber-Rockstrom said defining the intentional killing of a law enforcement officer as a hate crime shows the community is equally as supportive of officers as it is of those typically victims of hate crimes.
“It shows our support,” Gerber-Rockstrom said.
Earlier this year, Louisiana enacted a “Blue Lives Matter” law that makes it a hate crime to target first responders, including law enforcement, firefighters and emergency personnel.
On the federal level, the Blue Lives Matter Act of 2016 was introduced in April and it quickly gained support from President-elect Donald Trump who ran on a platform of cracking down on crime and restoring law and order.
Other states are considering similar legislation.
Hate crime statutes are a result of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, said Phillip Tyler, president of the NAACP in Spokane, and they provide protection to people who have historically been discriminated against because of their race or national origin.
“Those are things that are innate to a person, you can’t change your national origin,” Tyler said. “Being a police officer is a choice. If you do this you are essentially saying police lives matter more.”
While saying he believes anyone who commits a crime against a law enforcement officer should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, Tyler added that making intentional killings of law enforcement officers a hate crime is a bad idea.
“It’s still notoriously difficult to prosecute a hate crime because it’s difficult to show the perpetrator’s bias against the victim,” Tyler said.
He noted that “ penalties for killing an officer are often harsher as it is.”
Gerber-Rockstrom shared the petition on Facebook pages of politicians and news organizations across Washington, and she is determined to deliver signatures to State Sen. Andy Billig and State Reps. Timm Ormsby and Marcus Riccelli.
“I don’t know how many signatures it takes to really make a difference,” Gerber-Rockstrom said, “but the ambushes of law enforcement needs to stop.”