A group of 10 House Democrats is demanding that any police reform package include a blanket ban on qualified immunity for police officers, potentially scuttling any chance at a bipartisan bill.
Republicans have largely resisted efforts to end police qualified immunity, a legal protection that shields government employees from being held personally responsible for violating someone’s rights in the course of the employee’s work except in certain circumstances.
Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO) is leading the push by House progressives to end qualified immunity. With the House split 219 Democrats to 211 Republicans, Bush and the nine others backing her push could tank police reform by defecting and siding with Republicans. If House Democrats accept Bush’s reforms, the bill would likely not pass the Senate against united GOP resistance, according to Fox News.
Bush sent a letter with her demands to Democratic and Republican leaders in the House and Senate on Friday. Joining Bush in signing the letter are Reps. Mondaire Jones (NY), Rashida Tlaib (MI), Jan Schakowsky (IL), Ilhan Omar (MN), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY), Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ), Jamaal Bowman (NY), and Pramila Jayapal (WA).
“[W]e are concerned by recent discussions that the provision ending qualified immunity for local, state, and federal law enforcement may be removed in order to strike a bipartisan deal in the Senate,” the letter says. “Given that police violence, as a weapon of structural racism, continues to have devastating and deadly consequences for Black and brown lives across our country, we strongly urge you to not only maintain but strengthen the provision eliminating qualified immunity as negotiations in the Senate continue. Congress has a historic opportunity to make substantial strides in affirming the rights of people in our country, particularly Black and brown people for whom encounters with law enforcement are routinely violent and deadly.”
“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,” the letter continues. “Our nation is hurting. Our communities are hurting. Black and brown people who bear the brunt of police violence are hurting. Enacting the reforms included in the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act is not only long-overdue, but a matter of responsible policymaking. It is essential to our work in preventing the onslaught of police violence that has robbed so many in our communities of their loved ones. 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.
President Joe Biden is pushing Congress to deliver a police reform package to his desk by the one-year anniversary of George Floyd’s death on Tuesday next week. Floyd died on May 25 last year after being arrested by Minneapolis police for passing fake money at a convenience store. Former police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murdering Floyd in a trial earlier this year.