You don’t need to spell everything out.

Just because a law doesn’t specifically mention a given act doesn’t mean there is a loophole that makes it legal. Coerce someone into giving you their Bitcoin and you will face charges of theft or fraud. The fact Pennsylvania criminal statutes predate cryptocurrency by a century or so doesn’t give people carte blanche to commit cybercrime.

Prosecutors realize this.

In 2016, Pennsylvania passed a law making it illegal to strangle someone. It spelled out exactly the terms. It was criminal to stop the flow of blood to the brain or air to the lungs.

Strangulation or choking is a terrifying means of attack. Its very intimate, face-to-face nature also makes it a common attack among domestic violence victims. It should absolutely be prevented and prosecuted.

But before the first charges in the new law were pressed in 2017, people were still arrested, tried and convicted for strangling others. The problem was the existing assault law sought physical evidence, which can be lacking in strangulation. Was a new law necessary, or would tweaking the existing one have been enough?

A proposal has been introduced by state Rep. Lou Schmitt, R- Blair County, that would make spitting on a police officer a crime punishable by up to seven years in prison. If the assailant has a communicable disease, it would be a felony. If not, it would be a misdemeanor.

Spitting has long been derogatory and offensive. During the coronavirus pandemic, we may appreciate the disease-spreading aspect more, but that also is not exactly new information.

Neither is it being a crime. Today it is a summary offense or misdemeanor. Schmitt, whose legislation is called “Harassment of Law Enforcement Officers,” carves out a law just for police. But a similar niche already exists regarding corrections officers assaulted by prisoners with a bodily fluid of any kind.

Like strangulation, spitting doesn’t seem to be something that needs to be addressed anew. It is something that needs to be adjusted, and it should be done not just for the protection of police, but with an eye toward what is needed now.

Spitting on police should be added to existing laws. It is an area that seems to have been neglected, and that hole in the wall should be patched. But to address spitting only with regards to police — when there is video evidence all over the internet of people taking advantage of a global health crisis to weaponize their saliva — just seems shortsighted.

People should not be able to spit at cops without consequences, but they also shouldn’t be able to spit on 16-year-old girls staffing coffee shops or assistant grocery store managers enforcing corporate rules, either.

If spitting laws are going to be strengthened, let’s do it. But it should be done fairly and with common sense.

— The Tribune-Review/TNS

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