As many know, police reform has been a much-discussed topic of late. Left-wing groups have pushed this issue to the forefront of the national conversation, and movements to defund the police have swept up many major Democrat-controlled cities.
A new police reform bill has recently been working its way through Congress, and it has been subject to the same kind of negotiations, amendments and horse-trading that always accompanies the making of the legislative sausage.
A bipartisan group of legislators — which includes South Carolina Republican Senator Tim Scott, Democratic California Representative Karen Bass and New Jersey Democratic Senator Corey Booker — issued a statement last month on the topic of a police reform bill, saying that they had “reached an agreement on a framework addressing the major issues for bipartisan police reform.”
And now that the movement is gathering steam, a group of civil rights organizations has begun writing to these legislators asking for certain things to be included in the reform bill. Of particular interest has been the end of qualified immunity for the police.
Qualified Immunity on the Chopping Block?
Qualified immunity is a specific form of legal immunity that is extended to some kinds of government officials, including police. Specifically, it protects police officers from being sued for violating suspects’ civil rights, unless the officers do something that violates “clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.”
Critics of this practice say that by protecting police officers from individual legal liability, qualified immunity empowers them to violate people’s rights with impunity. Defenders of the practice claim that it is necessary in order for police to properly carry out their duties.
The House has already passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which eliminated qualified immunity for the police. It received no Republican support. Now, it has moved to the Senate.
Civil rights organizations like the ACLU, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and Amnesty International have written a joint letter to Scott, Bass and Booker, as well as to other important lawmakers like Dick Durbin, Lindsey Graham and James Clyburn, urging them to pass the legislation and climate qualified immunity.
The letter expresses concern that “negotiations over the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act have been obstructed by a small number of law enforcement groups” and that “some policymakers involved in the negotiations are demanding that qualified immunity for law enforcement officers be codified in the bill.”
These organizations want to make sure that the final version of the bill eliminates qualified immunity.