Qualified Immunity Must End: Derek Chauvin is Proof

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At this point, I suppose you would have to be living under a rock in deep quarantine to not have heard the name “George Floyd.” Images of his death and of course the deafening cries of his famous nearly last words “I can’t breathe!” have inspired protests not just throughout the United States but around the world

Images of fires, riots, and looting have flashed before our screens accompanied by a soundtrack of calls for justice and an end to police brutality and racial discrimination in our criminal justice system. These events have invoked strong emotions on both sides and have once again stirred the discussion on police violence and racism in America. Recent events have also called to light one of many festering problems that have allowed these issues to continue wreaking havoc on poor communities and citizens across the country. This bane to our justice system has as well deeply divided our nation, perhaps once again along partisan lines.

How many times can this issue stir before our eyes only to be ignored? We shouldn’t be surprised when violence stirs. But what is at the heart of it? How are police officers able to kill on camera and get away with it, and why are communities spurred to violence as these grievances continue to be ignored?

I have laid out the case before for why we should reform the the police force and increase accountability  for our police officers, but one of the most prevalent among the many problems at play here is simply a lack of personal responsibility. Psychological studies have shown what happens when one group is given a title and a position of unchecked authority over individuals. There are many monsters in law enforcement, but the fiercest of them was created by the courts:

Qualified Immunity

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What is qualified immunity? Qualified immunity is a doctrine established by the courts along with its even uglier godfather, “absolute immunity” which essentially shields public officials from any legal harm resulting from activities performed during the course of their official titles. In other words, no officer of the law can be sued for something he or she did during work hours unless they committed “A clear, established violation of civil rights” the burden of proof for which is on the victim. Through a nightmarish load of case history, not of course supported by any existing federal laws or statutes, qualified immunity has all but sealed the fates of victims of police brutality. The only way to win justice is to prove through airtight case history in the jurisdiction where the case occurred that all but matches your exact scenario.

Were you unjustly maced? You better have a precedent that involves a case of someone getting maced. Were you suffocated while in a submissive stance and under overly aggressive and medically dangerous police restrains? Perhaps Mr. Chauvin will set a precedent, perhaps not.

Does Qualified Immunity Apply to Derek Chauvin

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The death of George Floyd has not just inspired random riots and protests. His death seems to symbolic of something more. All across the country, more and more people are calling for an end to this judicial nightmare and a new beginning for accountability in the police force. Whether or not this affront to our justice system will end remains to be seen. This case could be heard by the Supreme Court as early as Monday, and legislation is on the table co-sponsored by the libertarian and democratic parties in the house that would legislatively end this legal protection.

But what about Derek Chauvin? Does qualified immunity even imply? It’s hard to say from a legal standpoint since the situation has been chaotic, and the case history is anything but thorough. According to the doctrine of qualified immunity, an officer cannot be sued or be held legally accountable for their actions in the execution of their duties. The only exception that seems to exist is that this does not apply if there is a “clearly established civil rights violation” Unfortunately, the courts have placed the burden of proof on the victim, and it’s all but impossible to prove even if you can afford a good lawyer.

On the other hand, the doctrine also does not apply if the individual in question knew that they were breaking an established law. From the standpoint of the courts, whether or not this is the case seems loosely based on the interpretation of the presiding judge. The guideline is that if “a reasonable person” would have known that a crime was being committed, the immunity won’t apply.

Again, this is always going to be difficult to prove, but there may be at least a chance to get around it with Derek Chauvin, especially if a criminal conviction were to go through. Although the public autopsy suggests that Mr. Floyd did not die from asphyxiation, it’s still clear from what happened that he died because of a medical condition that exasperates by Mr. Chauvin’s actions. Not only that, but the private autopsy seems to say otherwise, and the video evidence is very clear. Not only did Mr. Floyd alert the officer of his condition with his famous cry, “I can’t breathe,” but he also let Mr. Chauvin know that the situation was turning fatal when before his death, he uttered, “I’m gone.” 

Both Mr. Chauvin and Mr. Floyd were aware of Mr. Floyd’s condition and that it was becoming fatal directly because of Mr. Chauvin’s actions. At very least he is clearly and willfully guilty of voluntary manslaughter, but the DA has recently upgraded those charges to murder in the 2nd

Mr. Chauvin knew his actions would cause the death of George Floyd advertently or inadvertently, and in either case, he knew that he was in the act committing a crime and didn’t stop. Qualified immunity really shouldn’t apply. Unfortunately, the courts’ sloppy handling of the issue has turned it into cancer in our a criminal justice system that must be rooted out. 

Qualified Immunity Must End Now

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It’s my opinion that qualified immunity is unconstitutional based on the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment. We do not have equality under the law when police officers are not subject to the same standards as citizens in the private sector.

If an electrician sets your house on fire or if a plumber floods your basement because of poor service, they will be held liable in court and expected to compensate the victims of their negligence. If a doctor botches a surgery, they are sued for malpractice. Officers of the law and public officials should be held to the same standards. Police officers are not above the law. Mine isn’t the only dissenting voice calling for reforms.

Libertarian presidential Jo Jorgensen says police officers should be required by law to hold their own liability insurance. Police officers who don’t know how to behave and provide professional service will be priced out of the job, she says, and frankly, she’s right.

Democrats in the house are also partnering with former republican, libertarian congressman Justin Amash who just introduced a bill in the house to make it easier for victims to have their day in court.

Frankly, this bill is long overdue. It’s time for Congress to execute its constitutional responsibility of balancing out the courts who grossly neglected this issue. It has brought us police violence along with a slew of civil rights violations that have led to civil unrest and are now tearing communities across the country apart.

For what’s worth, I will ask my representatives to voice their support for this bill, and I think you should you too. I will discuss more on this in the days ahead.

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