Activists and politicians been been pushing to end “qualified immunity” for police officers ever since George Floyd was killed in May. It’s a hot buzzword because it sounds like qualified immunity protects cops who do bad things, but that’s not what it does at all. Derek Chauvin is in jail and charged with murder despite having qualified immunity. All it really does is protect cops from being sued civilly.
Qualified immunity grants government officials performing discretionary functions immunity from civil suits unless the plaintiff shows that the official violated “clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known
Eliminating qualified immunity won’t solve any problems, and it certainly won’t help black people. Derek Chauvin won’t have any money or assets left when his trial is over. And if he did, why should the family of George Floyd be allowed to seize property from his soon to be ex-wife for a crime she didn’t commit?
The bar for civil lawsuits is much lower than criminal, as it only requires a 51% chance of guilt. Cops like Darren Wilson, who a grand jury determined did nothing wrong, could be sued for a crime they didn’t commit. If you get rid of qualified immunity then cops aren’t going to risk everything they have in order to do their job. If a cop injures someone while they are resisting arrest that cop could be sued civilly and lose everything.
I’ve personally been sued in over a dozen frivolous lawsuits, all of which were eventually thrown out. But it takes years to litigate and costs upwards of hundred of thousands of dollars to get these lawsuits thrown out. If I had qualified immunity they would’ve been thrown out on the spot. Now picture how often cops would be sued by every person who felt like they were wronged by the police.
Qualified immunity protects all public servants. Eliminating it would make it easier for teachers to be sued if a parent felt like their child didn’t get a fair grade on a project. This has happened and the Supreme Court has ruled on this, using qualified immunity to protect the educators.
In 1975, in Wood v. Strickland, the Supreme Court recognized qualified immunity under Section 1983 for a school board member who was sued over the expulsion of three students.
Any legislator who wants to get rid of qualified immunity is voting to:
- Eliminate collective bargaining rights for public sector unions
- Make police afraid to do their job, and in turn make our streets less safe
- Deter people from pursuing jobs in public service
- Tie up our courts with frivolous lawsuits
Last night while you were sleeping the Massachusetts State Senate voted 30-7 to end qualified immunity as part of their “police reform” agenda. There was no public hearing for citizens and police officers to provide input as there always are with major bills like this. They did it without making headlines because they know that the more that comes out about qualified immunity the more that people will realize how important it is, and they’ll contact their elected leaders to let them know. Here’s how they voted:
The only people worse than the 30 democrats who voted yes are the two republicans (Tarr, Oconnor) and one democrat (DiZoglio) who voted present. At least those who voted no weren’t afraid to put their name on it.
Of the 40 Senators in this state, 36 are democrats and 4 are republicans. Sadly the democratic party is embracing a bill that seeks to destroy public sector unions, undoing over 100 years of progressive reforms brought by organized labor.
The 7 Senators who voted against this should all be commended, especially the 5 democrats (Anne Gobi, Nick Collins, Michael Moore, John Velis, and Michael Rush) who went against their own party and did the right thing. Dean Tran (Fitchburg) and Ryan Fattman (Sutton) both gave impassioned speeches in defense of law enforcement as well.
Tran kicked off the Senate’s debate by delivering a scathing indictment of the process used to develop the bill, which he said was crafted by Democratic leaders without input from the public or key interest groups, including minority law enforcement officers. The Fitchburg Republican, who is Vietnamese, said he has experienced “the kind of hatred and discrimination that one can only imagine or experience in their nightmares.” He called the bill “ill conceived and politically driven” and asked his mostly white colleagues, “What do you know about racial injustice and inequality?”
“The bill’s main goal and objective is to attack and discredit law enforcement,” Tran said.
Thank you Senator Tran for saying what so many of us are thinking. Of the 36 democratic State Senators in Boston, not one of them is black. Sonia Chang-Diaz and Tran are the only two members of the body who can be considered people of color. Yet here are these uppity white folks from wealthy communities, who represent wealthy white people who intentionally moved away from communities of color, ignoring minorities and making their communities less safe. The understanding that people like Jamie Eldridge, Karen Spilka, and Julian Cyr have of racial issues comes from reading the Huffington Post and following Shaun King on Twitter.
Senator Fattman always responds when I contact him with a concern, and he killed it with a speech he gave over the weekend.
The almost entirely white State Senate ignored the concerns of black police officers as well.
“Not only am I a police officer, I am a black man and I am probably better able to speak to concerns of people of color than Senator (William) Brownsberger,” said Eddy Chrispin, president of Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers.
I contacted Senator Brownsberger in May to see if he would condemn or say anything about Lt. Governor Karyn Polito defying her own lockdown order by attending a big party at her brother’s house in Shrewsbury. He told me he was disappointed that she did this, but said that he would respond by doing “most likely, nothing,” because he doesn’t like to get in the “business of calling out the weaknesses and mistakes of others.”
Will Brownsberger doesn’t speak out against public officials who do something wrong, unless of course they’re cops. Then they can be sued for doing their jobs. He believes in holding cops “accountable” to kangaroo civil courts, but not Karyn Polito. Violating your own lockdown orders is just a “weakness” and a “mistake.”
Senator Brownsberger lives in Mitt Romney’s “hometown” of Belmont, and represents a constituency that is overwhelmingly wealthy and white. He’ll remain safe, but he just made the streets a lot more dangerous for black and impoverished people in urban areas where crime rates are higher.
And just for kickers they also added an amendment to the bill that bans schools from collaborating with law enforcement to identify students who are known gang members.
Sen. Patricia Jehlen’s amendment blocking schools from sharing with law enforcement any information about a student’s immigration status, nation of origin, ethnicity, religion and known or suspected gang affiliations passed on a 27-12 vote.
How does preventing schools and police from sharing information about gang members make schools more safe? Oh right, it doesn’t. It makes students and teachers more susceptible from violence. This isn’t shocking coming from Senator Patricia Jehlen though. We wrote about her two years ago when she proposed a bill that would ban students from being arrested for anything while in school. This came after a drug dealing gang banging 15 year old from Woburn was arrested for yelling “fuck science” and throwing his books at his teacher.
The bottom line is that ending qualified immunity will affect all of us, and these idiots are just too short sighted and caught up in the moment to realize that. They’re blinded in their quest for “justice” for George Floyd, and they idiotically think this will help. It won’t. Firefighters will be afraid to run into buildings since they can now be sued if they don’t save the people inside. Police chiefs will order directives for cops not to pull anyone over, since they can be sued for discrimination. Teachers will be afraid to fail any students, and principals will be afraid to hold any students back, since they can be sued by parents for preventing their kids from graduating.
The bill must now get through the 160 member House of Representatives before Governor Baker decides whether to veto or sign it. As much as I hate Baker, I have faith he will veto any bill that gets to his desk. In the meantime, we need to make sure it doesn’t get that far. Here is a list of the 160 State Reps. Take a minute to find out who your elected leader is and send them an email urging them to vote no on any bill that eliminated qualified immunity.
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