Just one day after Republican lawmakers introduced the Back the Blue Act to protect police officers from deadly assaults, Baltimore police officers responding to the sound of gunshots on the city’s west side were baffled by what may have been an attempt to lure officers to their deaths late Thursday evening.
When officers arrived on the scene, the suspect was already firing an AR-15-style rifle, police say. When he turned his fire on them, they shot the man, who retreated into the apartment building. Officers who surrounded the building and searched the area found the suspect on the second floor of the apartment building. He was pronounced dead after being taken to the hospital.
"Officers were drawn due to gunfire,” said police spokesman TJ Smith according to the Associated Press, “Were they specifically drawn there by him if they might have known they were in the area? We don't know the answer to that yet, but that's something that we're trying to figure out."
The authorities are not yet sure what motivated the suspect to begin shooting, but the event certainly occurred during a time of great tension in the law enforcement community.
Just last week, following the police shootings of two young black men in Minnesota and Louisiana, a shooter targeted Dallas police officers at a Black Lives Matter protest. Five police officers were killed, and several more were wounded.
In response, Republican lawmakers drafted the Back the Blue Act, which debuted on Thursday, to help protect police officers in the line of duty by imposing strict minimum sentences for individuals who kill or injure police officers, as Gretel Kauffman reported for The Christian Science Monitor.
Deliberate attempts to injure police officers would result in a mandatory two-year stint in jail, no matter the severity of the injury. Unsuccessful attempts to kill officers would lead to ten years of jail time. Successful attempts? Thirty years.
"The Back the Blue Act sends a clear message,” Senate majority whip John Cornyn (R) Texas, one of the lawmakers who introduced the bill yesterday, said in a statement, “that our criminal justice system simply will not tolerate those who viciously and deliberately target our law enforcement."
The legislation is controversial, however, for its use of mandatory minimums, which many say achieve nothing more than jails stretched to maximum capacity for minimal crimes. The Back the Blue legislation, for example, could see thousands incarcerated for accidentally scratching an officer during a difficult arrest, critics say.
What happened in Baltimore, however, is alarming for officers. Law enforcement officials have still not discovered an intended victim, which indicates that the suspect may have been simply shooting to draw officers in.
"We don't have a victim ... No one has come forward and said, 'Hey, I was being shot at,' " said Mr. Smith, according to AP.
The four officers who responded to the scene of the shooting were in an unmarked car and were largely dressed in plainclothes, with the exception of tactical vests that were marked as police vests.
The crime scene is reportedly still being processed, and the investigation is as yet inconclusive.
This report contains material from the Associated Press.