If you feel at times that there is an us vs. them society in New York state, you’re not crazy. In fact, the New York state Senate just voted to make it official.
Far too often we see laws created that apply only to the common folks but which exempts certain people in society - the lucky ones, if you will. The state itself exempts politicians and bureaucrats from having to follow the same set of rules us “mere taxpayers” have to comply with.
And now the state Senate has passed a bill making it a felony to “harass, annoy or threaten a police officer while on duty” punishable by up to four years in jail.
Senator Joe Griffo, a Republican from Rome and the architect of the law said, “Police officers who risk their lives every day in our cities and on our highways deserve every possible protection, and those who treat them with disrespect, harass them and create situations that can lead to injuries deserve to pay a price for their actions.”
I don’t disagree that harassing a police officer should be a crime. Just as harassing your neighbor or anyone else should be a crime. I just don’t understand why it should be a special crime. We already have a charge for “obstructing official business,” don’t we?
I would also agree that creating situations that can lead to injuries should carry a punishment. Although that phrasing is a bit ambiguous. It’s not nearly as ambiguous as treating “them with disrespect,” however.
Basically, I don’t see a need for this law. It is feel-good legislation designed to remind us common folk that we’re not as important as the police. It’s far too open to the interpretation of the offended officer and could be very easy to abuse.
I mean, what’s disrespect? Is this column disrespectful because I think we should all be treated equally? Some will surely read it that way. And that’s the problem with vaguely written laws which are so open to individual interpretation.
Just as the NRA likes to remind us that there are enough gun laws if they’d only “enforce the ones on the books,” I think we should remind the state senate that the bill they passed is redundant to laws that already exist - for everyone.
I’d also like to ask them to make laws for everyone - and not certain laws for certain classes of people. There’s enough favoritism that already exists in the judicial system itself without codifying it from the get-go.
What’s next? Making it legal for judges (or doctors) to drive intoxicated? Making it legal for politicians to lie under oath? Making it legal for bankers to embezzle funds?
The whole point of having the rule of law is for those laws to apply to everyone equally. Otherwise all we’re doing is creating an oligarchy and slowly creeping towards a fascist state.
Scott Leffler is just an ordinary citizen. Well, as ordinary as anyone with a Twitter account. Find him there @scottleffler.