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Ex-cop Derek Chauvin was convicted this week of murdering George Floyd, marking the first time a white police officer has been convicted in the death of a Black person in the history of Minnesota, and the second time a police officer had been convicted of killing a civilian in the state. While the verdict was a victory, it will do very little to curb police brutality or systemic racism in policing without serious reforms in policing training and legal accountability. Even in this trial, Chauvin was presented as an outlier cop who violated procedure, rather than as an officer with many excessive-force complaints in his history, who had been protected by the system for years.
One of the biggest impediments to police accountability for killing civilians is the legal doctrine known as qualified immunity. Qualified immunity shields police officers from civil lawsuits brought by the public to protect government officials who make "reasonable" mistakes. This means that people who have had their civil rights violated by police officers cannot sue and they must rely on disciplinary action by the police department or the prosecutor bringing charges to hold officers accountable.
While civil lawsuits can only provide financial accountability, they could be an important tool in changing the culture around policing. Individual police officers might think twice about their actions if they thought their own money was on the line. Additionally lawsuits bring press attention that would likely be unwanted by police departments. Civilians must have their own mechanism for holding police officers accountable and cannot be forced to rely on systems set up to protect police.
While civil lawsuits can only provide financial accountability, they could be an important tool in changing the culture around policing. Individual police officers might think twice about their actions if they thought their own money was on the line.
The right for civilians to bring lawsuits against public officials who violate constitutional rights dates to the passage of the Civil Rights Act, aka the Enforcement Act, of 1871. Initially passed to fight the Ku Klux Klan, the law empowered the president to suspend habeas corpus, a writ to challenge why someone is being imprisoned, to combat the KKK. In 1961, in Monroe v. Pape, the Supreme Court held that Section 1, now amended and codified as 42 USC § 1983, known as Section 1983, could be used to sue state officers who violated a person's constitutional rights.
In that case, 13 Chicago cops broke into the Monroe home without a warrant, ransacked it and made Monroe and his wife stand naked in the living room before taking Monroe to the police station to interrogate him for 10 hours about a murder. Monroe brought suit against each officer as well as the city under the 1871 Civil Rights Act. While dismissed by the District Court and the Court of Appeals, because the officers were performing government functions, the Supreme Court disagreed with respect to the officers but dismissed the case against the city. The court held that the purpose of the 1871 Civil Rights Act was "to give a remedy to parties deprived of constitutional rights, privileges, and immunities by an official's abuse of his position."
While Monroe remains important precedent, a 1967 case weakened it with respect to police officers by creating the legal doctrine of "qualified immunity." Pierson v. Ray was a case coming out of desegregation efforts in the South. It involved the arrest of 15 Episcopal priests, 12 white and three Black, who tried going to a coffee shop in Jackson, Mississippi, while participating in the Mississippi Freedom Rides in 1961.
The priests were arrested for "breach of peace" after refusing to leave the coffee shop after being ordered to. They were each sentenced to four months in jail and a $200 fine. Represented by the Congress of Racial Equality, they sued for damages against the local judge and police under Section 1983, claiming false arrest and imprisonment.
While the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals found the Mississippi "breach of peace" law allowing the police to arrest the priests unconstitutional, it did not hold them liable, because they could not be expected to know which laws were constitutional or not. Additionally the appeals court ruled the judge was immune from prosecution.
While the Supreme Court ruled a new trial was warranted, it held that while police officers did not have "unqualified immunity," they may be excused "from liability for acting under a statute they reasonably believed to be valid but that was later held unconstitutional, on its face or as applied"—in other words, "qualified immunity."
While this was meant to be a small exception carved out for officers who acted in "good faith," the doctrine was greatly expanded in 1982 with Harlow v. Fitzgerald. After Harlow, police officers were generally shielded from civil liability, even if acting in bad faith, unless plaintiffs could show the officer violated a "clearly established" right that a "reasonable person" would know. The burden of proof therefore was moved to the shoulders of the plaintiff and "reasonableness" became an issue. Additionally plaintiffs were required to show a legal precedent involving the "specific context" and "particular conduct" at issue. Otherwise, the officers were shielded from liability. Bottom line? This is rarely achieved. The result? Cops act like they can do no wrong.
Ending qualified immunity is a necessary step in empowering civilians and holding police officers accountable for their violence. The United States House of Representatives has passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which would end qualified immunity. The act would also ban chokeholds, no-knock warrants in federal drug cases, create a nationwide database of police misconduct, prohibit racial and religious profiling, and redirect funds to community-based policing programs.
While the bill would be an important step in police reform, Republicans in the United States Senate are blocking it with a competing bill that is not as strong. Qualified immunity was created in an attempt to protect police officers during segregation and continuing its use only serves to perpetuate systemic racism and violent policing.
NJ cops were accused of racial profiling after seizing teens' bikes – but a new video tells a different story
Police officers in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, were the targets of criticism after a video showing them appearing to harass a small group of teens who were riding their bikes through town went viral.
"You guys are supposed to have licenses and all that kind of stuff," an officer tells the group. "Guys, we don't make the rules."
The video also shows that one Black teen was handcuffed and put in a patrol car after refusing to give the officers his bike.
The 55-second video clip was shared widely across Twitter and other social media platforms, with many people saying it was just another example of police racially profiling Black teenagers.
This is Perth Amboy, NJ. Are the police really arresting kids over bike registrations? Does it really require this… https://t.co/9fDcKzMJgr— Amol Sinha (@Amol Sinha)1618889114.0
However, a longer video uploaded to YouTube shows a different story. In the video, the group of bicycle riders consists of at least 20 or so teens who are racially mixed. As the group rode through town, the video shows them swerving into oncoming traffic and swarming people's cars. At one point, the person recording the video rides so close to oncoming cars he reaches out and touches them.
Watch the video below:
Republicans have finally hit on something to bash President Joe Biden, and it's apparently working even better than they'd hoped.
Former president Donald Trump's allies anticipated a spike in migrants crossing the southern border and laid the groundwork to attack the incoming administration, but Biden's team says the outgoing president pushed through last-minute changes that made the situation worse and the transition rougher, reported Politico.
"Being prepared and having a plan is not the same as having the right tools available especially when the previous administration created such a mess," said Cecilia Muñoz, a top immigration adviser to Barack Obama who served on the Biden transition team.
"A lot of people are not familiar with President Biden's strategy, his policies, his vision," said Sergio Gonzales, executive director of Immigration Hub. "It really is incumbent upon the White House and Democrats to articulate what they stand for. They need to lean in and actually be very clear with the American public on what the plan is."
Immigration Hub cited internal polling in a five-page memo obtained by Politico that shows 63 percent of voters approve of Biden's approach to the border, but the group also warned that the administration must make its policies clear -- or Republicans will do it for them.
"It's certainly central to our messaging," said one Republican operative involved in several Senate races. "Democrats are out of touch with the American people on immigration. They're afraid of doing something on the border that would make liberal activist groups angry, regardless of whether it's the right thing to do. We plan to highlight this every step of the way because it's clearly bad policy. "
Although nationwide voters approve of Biden's border efforts, Republicans say independents and conservative voters strongly disapprove -- and even some of the Democratic president's allies say he hasn't properly handled unaccompanied children crowded into detention facilities and urged him to open up paths to legal immigration.
"They got caught flat footed," said one source who discusses immigration policy with the White House. "They made this much worse."
That gives Republicans enough of an opening to hammer away.
"It's going to be a massive issue ... in the midterms," said Republican strategist and Trump adviser Jason Miller. "Biden clearly made a number of deals with progressives in his party but progressives in his party don't necessarily represent the swing voters and working class blue collar voters all around the country."
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