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In Turbulent Times, We Can Count on the Law

U.S. Attorney Barbara L. McQuade

The tragic shooting death of Wayne State Police Officer Collin Rose last week was the third incident resulting in the death of a police officer in Detroit in recent months.  Police shootings are on the rise all over the country this year. Officer Rose's death brought the total to 61 officers shot and killed in the line of duty so far this year, exceeding the 12-month total of 41 for 2015. 

Another alarming trend was noted last week when the FBI released its annual report of crime statistics.  The data showed a six percent increase in hate crimes. Hate crimes were up 67 percent against Muslim Americans.   The report also noted upticks in hate crimes against Jewish Americans, members of the LGBT community and African Americans. 

What's going on?  In a time when the Internet and social media make us more connected than ever before and provide us with more information than we could ever digest, our nation is more polarized than ever.  One factor is that the anonymity of the Internet gives people cover to say things they would never say in person, lowering the standard of discourse in an ever-downward spiral.  Provocative postings on the Internet can also arouse fury and trigger action by individuals with mental illness or who are prone to violent extremism.  

In times like this, our only comfort may be the law. 

Attorney General Loretta Lynch has said, "When struggles threaten to tear us apart, we turn to the law to reconnect ourselves with our highest principles.  To give voice to those fighting oppression.  To give hope to those seeking the redress of wrongs.  To give meaning to the cry of 'never again.'  And to protect those who call on us in the still small hours of the night when they are cold and frightened.  These are our values." 

The law imposes severe sanctions against individuals who assault or kill police officers because of what police officers represent.  Police officers are "guardians of democracy," empowered to use force or even deadly force to protect members of society.  They risk their own lives to protect the most vulnerable members of our communities. An assault against a police officer is an assault against all of us, and the law appropriately imposes substantial penalties.

Hate crimes are also subject to criminal punishment.  A federal hate crime occurs when someone willfully causes bodily injury because of the victim's actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, disability, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity.  We are committed to enforcing hate crimes because of the harm they cause to communities. Whenever a victim is targeted because of his status in a particular group, every member of the group feels threatened.  Prosecution of hate crimes sends a deterrent message that our American values do not tolerate attacks motivated by a victim's immutable characteristics. We are committed to using the law to deter, and, when necessary, to punish. 

Stereotyping those who are different from ourselves is misguided and dangerous.  So too is demonizing police officers simply because they wear the same uniform as the small percentage of officers who engage in misconduct.  As Attorney General Lynch has also said, "Let us not act out of fear and misunderstanding, but out of the values of inclusion, diversity and regard for all that make our country great."

Let's hope that where the law leads us to higher aspirations, our conduct will follow.

Barbara L. McQuade
United States Attorney
Eastern District of Michigan

Updated November 28, 2016