Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Qualified Immunity for Police and the Filibuster Must Go!

October 12, 2021 by  
Filed under News, Opinion, Politics, Weekly Columns

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(ThyBlackMan.com) As a freelance journalist, author and a Black male that seeks to better myself as a teacher of adults and children, I say enough is enough when it comes to these two scourges on society!

In May 2020, George Floyd was murdered by a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota while the officer was conducting an arrest. Derek Chauvin, the police officer guilty of this crime, knelt on Floyd’s neck and back for 9 minutes and 29 seconds until he died. The reason Floyd had been subjected to this torture? He had been suspected of using a fake $20 bill. If not for public uproar and the series of protests that were sparked across the United States, Chauvin would have been able to get away with these actions with a lesser penalty than he did relying on the availability of qualified immunity for the American police.

Just a few weeks into Joe Biden’s presidency, he has already begun to face obstructions against the implementation of his governmental policies resulting from the divergence of Congress members under the opposing Republican Party. It is statutorily required in Congress that a minimum of 60 votes be collected to satisfy the Senate cloture or majority rule for the conclusion of a debate or the taking of a vote. However, the never-ending actions of Congress members from the rival party to filibuster these procedural debates or votes have created a tall, brick fence around the possibility of ever easily attaining this cloture.


Colossal problems exist because of the prevalence of qualified immunity for the police and the filibuster in America.

Qualified immunity is a decades-old judicial doctrine that offers protection to law enforcement officers against certain lawsuits. This allows police and correctional officers in the United States to get away with criminal acts such as shooting first and thinking later or other forms of unwarranted violence. Trust me as an African American male growing up on the west side of Chicago; I had many run-ins with the police who seemed undaunted by the laws that govern us and protect us from them…the good guys! Qualified Immunity has emboldened people that never should have been police!

Over the decades following the initial establishment of this doctrine by the United States Courts, numerous cases have been decided in court in which law enforcement officials who have unmistakably broken the law found protection from punishment under this doctrine. In the case of Baxter v. Bracey, a Nashville officer released a police dog on the plaintiff, Alexander Baxter, who had completely surrendered himself to arrest as was evident to all who had been present at the scene. The officer received no penalty for this action hiding under the cloak of qualified immunity. In the extraordinary case of Jessop v. City of Fresno, three officers that had stolen $225,000 from the plaintiff in a police search got away with the crime unpunished because, according to the court, no law explicitly stated that an officer could not “steal property seized pursuant to a warrant”.

Notably, Floyd’s case was not the first instance of a white police officer killing a Black civilian in Minnesota, but Chauvin was the first white police officer in the state to ever be charged for the crime. So, you can imagine the backlog of similar cases, yet all those officers went away scot-free and more Black lives were lost without any sort of justice. The extent of absurdity that this judicial doctrine has enabled is simply unbelievable.

In the legal respect, The United States Constitution (under title 42 U.S.C., Chapter 21, sub-chapter 1, subsection 1983) provides that all citizens of America are guaranteed the right to institute a civil action against or sue anyone that has subjected them to a deprivation of their civil rights. Qualified immunity of the US Police very clearly undermines this right. What is wrong with this picture?

The doctrine makes it so that if a police officer were to execute an act that clearly violated your human or civil right(s), the chances of you getting compensation and the officer getting reprimanded would not be because you had been wronged. It would be based on whether an analogous situation as yours occurred in the past, had been brought before a court of law, and that court had decided that the officer’s actions had been unlawful. Not only is that as unconstitutional and ridiculous as it sounds, but it is also extremely retroactive and retrogressive—two things that laws should never be.

Qualified immunity has severely stunted police accountability, amongst the other challenges it poses, yet a few people still argue in its favor. An existing argument for qualified immunity of the police is that if people can sue police officers for every action they take, no one will want to become an officer anymore. But in truth, police officers found guilty of any misconduct by a court never bear the costs of their actions by themselves; the damages awarded to the plaintiff are always paid by the government.

Most importantly, anyone who holds back from joining the police force solely because they fear getting in trouble for doing something wrong does not deserve to join the force in the first place. An officer of the law is supposed to know the law and uphold that law; only officers who are willing to genuinely do their jobs, follow due procedure, abide by the law, and truly be officers bound to their duty “to protect and to serve” deserve to be members of the force. This writer is not calling for “Defunding Police” however, all communities deserve to have competent, unbiased, and qualified officers living up to the code of conduct with a view to serving and protecting.

Additionally, there is the argument of the need for room to make “reasonable mistakes.” However, the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution already provides law enforcement officers with this leeway, thus making the doctrine of qualified immunity redundant in this respect. Acting “in good faith” or with the belief that one’s actions were lawful should no longer be a defense available to police and correctional officials. Thus, there is no genuinely justifiable reason a fundamentally unconstitutional, unjust, arbitrary, and unnecessary doctrine such as qualified immunity for the police should still be operating in the United States.

The Filibuster Farce

The second issue, on the other hand, is that of the filibuster. According to Wikipedia, the filibuster is defined as “a tactic of parliamentary procedure. It is a way for one person to delay or entirely prevent debates or votes on a specific proposal.” While the ruling party may have options available to it to circumvent the problem posed by the filibuster, it constitutes an unnecessary delay in the implementation of policies—especially those of an urgent nature—regardless. Furthermore, attempts through the centuries to eliminate the filibuster through motions in Congress have consistently been barred by rival parties filibustering these motions. The filibuster even constitutes a problem to itself!

The use of the filibuster as a tactic for procedural obstruction has peaked at an all-time high in recent times. A very noteworthy filibuster took place in the 1960s when Southern Democrats attempted to block the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by filibustering for 75 hours (about 3 days), including a 14-hour and 13-minute address by Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia. The essence of the Act was to institute a prohibition against discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

More recently, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021 was introduced by Democratic Representative Karen Bass in February, 2021, a proposed bill that would eliminate qualified immunity for law enforcement officials, alongside other reforms. As you would expect, Representative Bass’ motion has been met with opposition from antagonistic members of Congress who have filibustered the bill since its introduction. These two occurrences provide indisputable proof that the filibuster is often abused by politicians to work against the interests of people of color (POC).

The most effective way to eliminate the filibuster would be to amend the cloture rule, as codified in Senate Rule 22, but such amendment is bound to be met with the obstacle of the filibuster itself. Other available options would be for Congress to “set a new precedent” that would modify the cloture rule as has been done in previous years, or create more exceptions to the cloture rule. However, these, as well as other routes, would only weaken the filibuster, not eliminate it.

It is necessary in this era where there is a call for more accountability of politicians and the police that the doctrine of qualified immunity for law enforcement officers and the negative procedural tactic of the filibuster be eliminated. While a few states have managed to successfully pass legislation to end or restrict the defense of qualified immunity for police officers, the options to curtail the use of the filibuster are still preliminarily being explored by the Biden administration.

Qualified immunity for the police and the filibuster have stolen the focus from the real injuries and concrete problems that people are experiencing every day and placed it on court and Congress procedures as well as selfish interests. Therefore, to remedy this, it is the strong belief of this writer   that qualified immunity for the police and the filibuster must be eliminated in all of America and in every authority of the United States!

Staff Writer; Stanley G. Buford

Feel free to connect with this brother via TwitterStanley G. and also facebookhttp://www.facebook.com/sgbuford.

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