NASHVILLE — Two local lawmakers say Thursday's targeted slayings of five police officers by a sniper in Dallas underscores the need for their planned "Blue Lives Matter" bill, which boosts criminal penalties for anyone convicted of attacking law enforcement personnel.
"It sounds like somebody just literally picked out police officers and began killing them, which obviously points to the need if people are targeting police officers," said House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, who plans to present the bill next year when the 110th General Assembly convenes. "I think that validates the idea that we target them when it comes to punishment."
Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, who plans to sponsor the Senate companion "Blue Lives Matter" bill, agreed, saying "nobody wants to see anybody needlessly and brutally shot and killed but when police officers are specifically targeted for absolutely no reason other than that they're police officers then we need to do everything possible to target the people involved."
Thursday's fatal shootings, in which seven other police officers and two bystanders were wounded, occurred at a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest over police shootings of black men in Louisiana and Texas.
Authorities say the shooter, identified as Micah Johnson, 25, told police that he was upset over the shootings and wanted to exterminate whites, "especially police officers," The Associated Press reported.
In Bristol, Tenn., Valdosta, Ga., and Ballwin, Mo., authorities say attackers also shot at officers, leaving two wounded, with the Ballwin officer "fighting for his life," The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
Last month, McCormick, Gardenhire and four other lawmakers held a news conference to announce a three-bill "Blues Lives" package they intend to pursue in 2017.
"Almost exactly a year ago we had an incident in Chattanooga where a terrorist actually attacked a couple of military installations," McCormick said at the news conference, referring to Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez's bloody July 16, 2015, shooting rampage in which he killed five U.S. Marine and Navy reservists.
Abdulazeez, whom the FBI later said was "inspired" by terrorist groups' propaganda, was shot to death by Chattanooga police after he emerged from the Navy Reserve Training Center on Amnicola Highway.
Speaking by phone on Friday, McCormick said he had not been aware of the Bristol, Tenn., shooting.
"It's a terrible thing," he said of the shootings there and elsewhere, adding, "I think we're on the right track by trying to target those who target police officers."
McCormick said that anyone seeking to "stoke controversy and say that that somehow we're knocking the Black Lives Matter organization couldn't be anything further from the truth."
He said he and Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, a sponsor of a separate bill, had discussed the issue before their news conference last month and agreed "we wanted to stay very far away from that."
McCormick said he hopes to win support from Democrats for the bill and said "as long as we don't get off on a racial type matter, I don't think we'll have any trouble at all" in passing his or the other bills.
He said he and Green are "going to take great pains not to let it go off in that direction and instead have a good discussion."
The McCormick/Gardenhire proposal would automatically elevate Class A and Class B simple assault misdemeanor charges on a police office to a Class E felony carrying up to six years imprisonment and up to $15,000 in fines upon conviction if the defendant "knew or should have known the person assaulted was a law enforcement officer."
Green and Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis, have a second bill that designates as a "hate crime" the killing or attempted killing of someone because they are a law enforcement officer or perceived to be one.
It would be classified as a Class A felony with the presumptive sentence awarded "at the maximum of the range permitted," Green said, which can mean the death penalty.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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