Activists are condemning a proposed "Blue Lives Matter" ordinance that would expand Chicago’s hate crimes law to protect current and former police officers, firefighters and emergency medical crews.
On Wednesday, advocacy groups like the ACLU and the Black Youth Project 100 spoke out against the proposal, which was introduced to City Council by powerful 14th Ward Ald. Ed Burke in June.
"This proposed ordinance is a distraction from the conversation we need in Chicago about fundamentally reforming the policing system, which has failed the people of Chicago,” Karen Sheley of the ACLU of Illinois said in a statement.
“Existing laws appropriately penalize acts of violence against a police officer or other first responder,” she added.
Under the plan, fines for offenses against current or former police officers, firefighters or other first responders would be increased from $500 to 2,500. Violators charged with a felony would face up to six months in prison.
“We need to extend our first responders every possible protection,” Burke said in a statement in June. “Each day police officers and firefighters put their lives on the line to ensure our well-being and security.”
“It is the goal of this ordinance to give prosecutors and judges every tool to punish those who interfere with, or threaten or physically assault, or public safety personnel,” the alderman added.
Sheley claims the ordinance looks to shift attention away the Black Lives Matter Movement, which has challenged police abuse.
Rachel Williams of Black Youth Project 100 agreed with Sheley, calling the ordinance “a twisting of what we’re fighting for.”
“What does it say about accountability?” Williams asked Wednesday.
Williams holds that police are not a marginalized group, but rather the department has “actively marginalized” groups protected under the city’s current hate crimes law.
Both Williams and Sheley urged the city to focus on police reform.
“We are in the midst of a grave crisis regarding this trust, and we should be working to insure that the community knows that police will be held accountable when they act improperly,” Sheley said. “This is a critical problem that needs addressing now."
Burke’s ordinance is co-sponsored by a group of former police officers and firefighters, including Aldermen Willia Cochran, Nicholas Sposato, Anthony Napolitano, Derrick Curtis and Christopher Taliaferro. Ald. Matthew O’Shea is also listed as a co-sponsor.
The measure has been referred to City Council’s Committee on Public Safety.