Big Problems with Dems’ No-Harm-No-Foul Assault Law

Richmond mob. Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

by James A. Bacon

Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, has a point: Virginia needs to reform its law declaring that any “assault” on a law enforcement officer be treated as a felony. It is absurd that people are charged with felonies, as has happened in Virginia, for throwing onion rings and brownies, spilling water on shoes, or bumping a school resource officer while trying to get to class. Clearly, the law has been applied too broadly. Surovell and other Senate Democrats propose making it a felony to assault a law enforcement officer only if the victim experiences a visible injury.

Just one problem: The proposal does not take into account the tactics of protesters who have perfected the art of “non-violent” violence.

How would Surovell’s proposal treat the intentional aiming of  lasers for the purpose of blinding police officers?

How about throwing bags of urine and feces?

How about attempting but failing to injure a police officer by throwing rocks?

Under the Democrats’ plan, writes Surovell, “if an officer is attacked and suffers a serious injury like broken skin, broken bones, internal injuries or a concussion, then that is a felony punishable by five to 30 years in prison and a two-year mandatory minimum sentence. No one has proposed changes to that.”

Surovell and his fellow Democrats need to think through the consequences of reducing non-injurious assaults to misdemeanors.

Their timing couldn’t be worse. Anarchists and their allies are pushing the boundaries of “peaceful” protest beyond recognition. They regularly throw bricks, rocks, and frozen water bottles at police. Some have hurled Molotov cocktails. They smash windows and set vehicles, buildings and dumpsters on fire. Radicals have learned how to weaponize fireworks, even going so far as to embed them with nails so they explode with shrapnel. Organizers also carefully calibrate the level of violence, depending on circumstances.

At one extreme, the siege of the federal courthouse in Portland, Ore., has been extremely violent. At the opposite end of the spectrum, demonstrations like those visited upon the homes of Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, Councilwoman Kim Gray, and Commonwealth Attorney Colette McEachin in Richmond, are designed to intimidate with loud noise, verbal threats, displays of firearms, and vandalism — all falling just short of what it takes to trigger police intervention. Among other affronts, protesters aimed lasers into Gray’s house.

One can deplore the radicals’ agenda while granting a grudging respect for their ability to innovate new protest tactics and disseminate them rapidly via social media. If the General Assembly enacts a law reducing the penalty for non-injurious assaults on law enforcement officers, it is predictable that the anarchists will tailor their tactics to take full advantage of the changes.

The use of laser pointers is particularly disturbing. I don’t know Surovell’s thinking, but I suppose he could contend that if a protester wielding a laser pointer blinded a police officer, the act would be classified a felony on the grounds that it resulted in an injury. What of laser-pointer attacks that fail to inflect blindness? If a dozen people in a crowd are aiming laser pointers, good luck identifying the individual responsible for blinding an officer.

The Democrats’ proposal would penalize successful assaults but decrease punishments for unsuccessful assaults.

Consider a parallel with guns. Everyone would agree that it should be a felony to shoot and injure someone. I expect that everyone would agree that it should be a felony for people to fire guns with the intention of inflicting harm, even if they shoot and miss.

What about throwing bricks and rocks? Most of the time, the rocks miss their mark or bounce off protective armor. But once in a while they cause serious injury. Under Surovell’s proposal, it would constitute a felonious assault on an officer to hurl a rock only if it actually caused a visible injury. Good luck sorting out which individual in a crowd threw the particular rock that injured a policeman. No harm, no foul.

What about attempting to blind police officers with laser pointers? If no one is hurt, no harm, no foul.

What about shooting fireworks into a phalanx of police officers? If no one is hurt, no harm, no foul.

Yes, the law should be amended so trivial offenses are not turned into felonies. At the same time, the law should be updated to protect law enforcement officers against the ever-evolving tactics of anarchists and insurrectionists. As the proposal stands (based on Surovell’s description of it), it looks like the Dems are siding with the mob against the police. The optics (laser or otherwise) are very bad.