Qualified Immunity

By Daniel Nardini

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - CommentaryWith all the demonstrations, riots, protests, destruction of property, and whole cities being laid waste, one thing has been forgotten in this extreme escalation of violence. This forgotten issue is police reform, and one of the keys to that reform is eliminating the concept known as qualified immunity. What is qualified immunity? Qualified immunity grants immunity to public officials from lawsuits or prosecution unless a plaintiff can establish beyond a shadow of a doubt that the official(s) in question had clearly violated established procedures and knowingly committed an act that violated a suspect’s rights. While some will argue that this is a measure to protect the rights and powers of those in charge, it has been argued that it can and does give public officials and law enforcement a blank check to act with impunity. Of course, as in any instance of a violation of civil rights, it is the burden of the plaintiff to prove that those public officials in charge had violated procedure. However, qualified immunity is not spelled out in the U.S. Constitution, and no U.S. Supreme Court decision has ever really decided the issue of qualified immunity.

The main problem that I see with qualified immunity is that it gives a blank check to law enforcement. While police departments may argue it may be there to protect officers from frivolous lawsuits and a deluge of lawsuits, what this does is annul the rights of those who have been victimized by rogue police or police overstepping their boundaries. I must also point out that judges can and often do dismiss frivolous lawsuits to protect law enforcement and the public. Again, it is up to the plaintiff to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that those who committed a crime did so with impunity. In my view, police should be held up to this same standard as all of us. If they break the law, and this resulted in the harm or death of an innocent person, or denied a person their due process, then those individual police officers must be held accountable for their actions just like the rest of us. Abolishing qualified immunity would be, in my view, one of the best methods of helping to curb a lot of abuse in police departments.

The real danger I see is if this reform is not carried out, more radical left elements will call for totally defunding police departments and subject individual police officers to threats of injury or death. We are seeing these things playing out now in some of our major cities, and it is scary to put it mildly. On the other extreme end, the political right sees no reason for police reform, and will and are calling for extreme violent methods against anyone who disagrees with them. In my view, revolutionary change such as defunding the police is a dangerous step that will tear the fabric of this country, and likewise no change is equally as dangerous. Some reform is needed if only to prevent the collapse of the whole system of law enforcement and put the public’s trust back into our police forces.

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