FRANKFORT, Ky (AP) – Mocking a Kentucky police officer could become a crime under a law passed by the Senate Thursday.
The measure was filed months after Louisville, the largest city in the state, when large protests took place following the murder of Breonna Taylor by police. The bill was passed by the Republican-dominated Senate 22-11 and is now awaiting entry from the House.
Under the law, anyone who “addresses, insults, mocks, or challenges a law enforcement officer with abusive or derisive words, gestures or other physical contact, who has a direct tendency to provoke a violent response” would be guilty of a crime and up to 90 days in the Jail and fines.
The proposal also increases the penalties for civil unrest. For example, those charged with rioting would have to be detained for at least 48 hours. Another provision would criminalize the aiming of “a light, laser pointer, activated horn or other sound-making device on the head” of a first aider.
Several Republican senators who voted against the bill shared concern that some parts of it would violate the rights of the First Amendment and put a strain on the judicial system. Even so, they signaled support for the law when some parts of it were changed in the house.
State Senator Danny Carroll, a Republican who sponsored the bill, said he tabled the proposal in response to Louisville protests against police brutality and racial injustice last summer. Demonstrations – some of which turned violent – were a frequent occurrence as protesters called for charges to be brought against the officials involved in Taylor’s death. Many gathered peacefully for weeks in Jefferson Square Park in downtown Louisville. Called “Injustice Square” by protesters, it became a spontaneous hub during months of demonstrations.
Taylor, a black woman, was shot and killed several times by police during a botched drug attack at her Louisville home. A grand jury sued an officer for wanton harm in September for shooting at a neighbor’s home, but no officers were charged in connection with her death.
Police had a no-knock arrest warrant but said they knocked and announced their presence before entering Taylor’s apartment, a claim some witnesses have denied. No drugs were found in Taylor’s apartment.
Republicans have super majorities in both the House and Senate.
Democratic lawmakers warned the proposal could be used to unfairly attack peaceful protesters. State Senator Gerald Neal, a Democrat representing Louisville, called the legislation “unnecessary” and “unreasonable”.
“This is a blast for my district,” said Neil. “Personally, I am annoyed about it. That’s under this body. “
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