- - Monday, March 21, 2016

As district attorney of Weld County, Colo., I sat across the table from victims of hate crimes. When a friend or family member lies dead in the street or comatose in the hospital, the hate cuts a wound deeper than the attacker’s weapon.

It’s clearly wrong for criminals to target individuals based on inherent traits or closely held behaviors and beliefs. It’s equally wrong for criminals to target individuals based on the color of their uniform. That’s why I’ve introduced legislation to make the intentional targeting of a police officer a federal hate crime.

Current federal hate crime laws enhance the sentence for criminals who target a victim simply because of the victim’s race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. The idea is that targeting someone for one of these immutable characteristics, behaviors, or closely held beliefs is an especially egregious attack on their humanity, and the emotional impact on the victim and his or her family is amplified.

When someone randomly shoots at a police officer, he’s creating the same environment and the same impact as other crimes of hate, which is why they should face prosecution under the federal hate crime statute.

Every week we hear examples of cases that qualify for charging cop killers with hate crimes. More and more often we’re witnessing hate-motivated attacks on police.

Police officers know they’ve engaged in a dangerous line of work. But someone must protect our neighborhoods and uphold justice in our cities. They’ve chosen to answer the call to duty, sacrifice and service to their community.

This is why a targeted attack on a police officer is especially jarring. The officer has committed his or her life to holding together the very fabric of the community, but the attacker seeks to destroy that life and that fabric.

These attacks on officers cause fear, devastation and feelings of alienation. The entire police force rides an emotional roller coaster, trying their best to protect the rest of society while coping with the devastating loss of one of their own and the threat to themselves and their loved ones.

These crimes against law enforcement have an impact far beyond the station headquarters. If we’re going to have justice and peace in our communities, we need an empowered, functional police department that’s not being torn apart by crimes of hate. Police officers under threat of random assassination simply for their uniform color can’t effectively fight all the other criminals in our community.

Not only will hate crimes against cops make the community less safe, they will also make the community less whole. Our cities and neighborhoods are diverse. Greeley, Colo., where I served as district attorney, saw the intermingling of people from a variety of different ethnic, racial and religious backgrounds. Meshing various cultures, customs and faiths in one community can be challenging, but it’s absolutely necessary to achieve the unity that is required to form a cohesive society.

Police officers play a vital role in integrating these societies, because they protect all of our rights, and implement the system of justice that keeps us all safe. They may slip up sometimes. But our communities won’t be complete or whole if the very people charged with maintaining public order and enforcing the law are themselves the targets of vicious and hateful attacks.

The criminals who commit crimes against law enforcement seek to create a climate of intimidation and terror, one in which police officers and the folks they look out for every day live in fear of violent attacks. The Blue Lives Matter Act will make our communities safer by protecting those who protect us.

Ken Buck is a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Colorado. He previously served for 10 years as the district attorney of Weld County, Colo.

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