Qualified immunity needs to go

Congress appears willing to consider more police oversight legislation, however, there’s still major disagreement on qualified immunity reform. Qualified immunity protects officers from civil lawsuits in certain interactions with civilians. This horrible idea excuses bad behavior from officers, and other government officials, through a carve-out of the Fourth Amendment.

The disagreement falls along political party lines.

“I always listen to everybody’s proposal, but what I’m not going to do is put our law enforcement community in a position that they’ve got to second-guess themselves when they’re trying to make sure people are staying safe,” Florida Republican Senator Rick Scott told ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos on Sunday during an interview while also promoting South Carolina Senator Tim Scott’s possible compromise moving the lawsuit costs to police departments instead of individual officers. “Well, how do we — how do we make our systems better all the time? The vast majority of law enforcement officers show up every day, put their lives on the risk every day, and do the right thing.”

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham gave his own defense of Tim Scott’s proposal to Fox News Sunday. “It’s a pretty simple solution: don’t sue the police officer, sue the police department so the cop doesn’t have to worry about losing his house and his entire — you know, car and everything else that comes with being a police officer.”

Some Democrats appear willing to compromise to a certain extent.

“I don’t know if I’m willing to blow up the deal, I don’t consider that blowing it up, but we do have to look at ways,” California Democrat Congresswoman Karen Bass said on FOX News Sunday while pressing the issue of individual officer accountability. ” Now, if Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott can show us some other way to hold officers accountable — because this has been going on for just decades and officers right now are not really held accountable.”

The proposal sounds interesting but fails to provide any individual officer accountability while putting a burden on taxpayers. They are the ones who end up footing the bill for any successful lawsuit.

Police unions argue repealing qualified immunity will keep officers from making split-second decisions. Florida Police Benevolent Association and Palm Beach County Police Benevolent Association President John Kazanjian laughably suggested in January cops would have to worry about a lawsuit while “struggling to disarm an armed perpetrator” should qualified immunity protection disappear. This farcical claim ignores a 1989 Supreme Court decision on the use of force. Justices wrote the use of force had to be seen through the split-second decision lens rendering Kazanjian’s argument moot.

What qualified immunity reform involves are police-community situations not involving split-second decisions. Reason’s Billy Binion pointed out qualified immunity protections were extended to officers who beat and arrested a Cleveland man who mouthed off to them outside his home. Qualified immunity protection was also given to an officer who lied about getting a drug tip and destroyed a man’s vehicle. Those who defend qualified immunity conveniently ignore these incidents.

Qualified immunity reform means nothing if individual officers aren’t held accountable. Potential compromise isn’t enough from Senate Republicans. The whole protection needs to be chucked into the garbage bin of history. It’s a stain on the Constitution and the ideals this country was founded upon.

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