Changes to qualified immunity, which protects bad officers, have little chance of making it into the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.
As the negotiations for the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act continue in Congress, there are emerging reports that changes to qualified immunity have little to no chance of making it into the final bill.
Qualified immunity protects government officials from lawsuits that allege the individual violated a plaintiff’s rights. As it relates to police, it protects officers’ personal assets — including their pensions — from being awarded in lawsuits. Instead, lawsuits related to the violation of rights by police officers usually name their municipalities as defendants.
Lead bill negotiators (from left) Rep. Karen Bass, Sen. Tim Scott and Sen. Cory Booker speak briefly to reporters as they exit the office of Rep. James Clyburn following a meeting about police reform legislation. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Ten House Democrats wrote a letter to House and Senate leadership voicing their concern about ensuring the removal of the doctrine from the act. Per CBS News, they wrote, in part, “As negotiations continue, know this: There can be no true justice in America if we cannot save lives, just like there can be no true accountability in America if we do not eliminate qualified immunity. Maintaining and strengthening the provision that would eliminate qualified immunity once and for all would put us on a path towards true accountability and help end the systemic and systematic harm that has long been perpetuated by American policing.”
Progressives support the end of qualified immunity, but Republicans have been standing firm in their opposition to that point in the act.
According to a report from Politico, three sources familiar with the matter said alterations to the legal doctrine are no longer under consideration.
A photograph of police murder victim George Floyd is displayed along with others at the “Say Their Names” exhibit last month in San Diego, a traveling memorial featuring pictures of 200 Black Americans who lost their lives due to systemic racism and racial injustice. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
The lead negotiators of the bill — Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Rep. Karen Bass of California — have missed several deadlines they set for their group, but discussions are ongoing.
Caroline Anderegg, a Scott spokesperson, said in a statement that “the senator will stay at the negotiating table as long as progress is being made” and that negotiators “will continue to work through August toward finding an agreement.”
According to a report from theGrio’s April D. Ryan earlier this summer, House Minority Whip Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina stepped in to assist with negotiations earlier this summer.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said Clyburn was doing everything possible to “help the negotiators get to a good place.” Ellison served as special prosecutor in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis Police officer convicted of murdering Floyd earlier this year.
President Joe Biden has expressed frustration about the slow pace at which several key civil rights bills have moved toward passage. In addition to the Justice in Policing Act, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the For the People Act are also delayed, with no passage yet in sight.
These crucial pieces of legislation would critically impact Black and brown communities, which were key in securing the White House for Democrats and flipping states like Georgia and Arizona to blue.
The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act would lower the criminal intent standard — from willful to knowing or reckless — to convict a law enforcement officer for misconduct in a federal prosecution, limit qualified immunity as a defense to liability in a private civil action against a law enforcement officer and grant administrative subpoena power to the Department of Justice in pattern-or-practice investigations.
The act aims to increase accountability for law enforcement misconduct, restrict the use of certain policing practices, enhance transparency and data collection, and establish best practices and training requirements.
The Floyd family and supporters of the bill were optimistic that it would pass in May at the one-year anniversary of Floyd’s death. Near the anniversary, Bridget Floyd, the family’s spokesperson, requested that supporters call for their legislators to push for its passage.
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