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Governor Kemp Signs Police Protection Bill into Law

photo credit: AP

Despite the best efforts of many advocates, Governor Kemp signed HB 838, which will provide enhanced penalties for people who “target” cops and other first responders, into law last week. Georgia law already provides adequate protections for police officers, and the hastily passed law will have many negative consequences — some intended and some not. As people across the state have been demanding accountability for police brutality and murder, Governor Kemp said that the new law shows that Georgia “unapologetically backs the blue.”

The provision first appeared as a last-minute addition to Georgia’s Hate Crimes Law, signed earlier this summer with great fanfare, despite the fact that the legislation doesn’t materially change the conditions of vulnerability for marginalized people. But when the first-responder protections were removed from the Hate Crimes Bill— after civil rights organizations such as the Georgia NAACP said they would oppose the bill if they were included— the language was slipped into HB 838 (politicizing an otherwise innocuous bill in an entirely unrelated code section) overnight and then passed less than 24 hours later, entirely sidestepping the legislative process.

Now the law establishes an entirely new offense—“bias motivated intimidation” of police, firefighters, and paramedics— allowing members of the now-protected group to bring a civil lawsuit against any party they feel has accused them of false misconduct. Police now have legal power to intimidate those who would confront abuses, chilling and criminalizing the very people who would hold them accountable. 

“I don’t think that’s a coincidence,” said SCHR’s Tiffany Roberts. “It sort of goes hand-in-hand with people who say, ‘Well, these protests make police officers less safe,’ even though all the data suggests police may make protestors less safe… the ones being shot with rubber bullets. They’re the ones being arrested and thrown to the ground.”