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U.S. Del. Stacey Plaskett joins a growing number of Democrats pushing back against attempts to compromise on the legal protection for law enforcement officials
As members of Congress mull over what they can do legislatively to address the spate of police-involved shootings of Black and brown Americans, a legal immunity that presently protects law enforcement officers (and other government officials) from civil lawsuits is becoming a hot-button issue.
U.S. Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett, who serves as a delegate for the U.S. Virgin Islands, recently described the legal protection known as qualified immunity as a “hood” for bad cops who she described as a “modern-day Klu Klux Klan.”
“Qualified immunity has in many instances become the hood for bad police officers to, in fact, act as modern-day Ku Klux Klan members against Black and Brown people in this country. And it has got to stop,” Plaskett told CNN on Saturday.
“The most conservative members of the Supreme Court say that Congress needs to do something about qualified immunity. And we cannot shirk our responsibility to victims and Americans at large because we are afraid of the unions, or talking points, or those on the right who have used the blue wall as a shield against American justice.”
Democrats and Republicans in Washington are currently trying to determine if they can compromise on a police reform bill that holds officers accountable for bad policing without curbing qualified immunity. Democrats in the U.S. House have already passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020, which would limit qualified immunity as a defense to liability in a private civil suit against a law enforcement officer or state correctional officer.
The bill, however, has yet to be picked up for a vote in the U.S. Senate and is not expected to be passed in the upper chamber of Congress without the necessary support of at least 10 Republicans. A companion bill introduced last year in the Senate was co-authored by Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and then-Senator Kamala Harris.
But a compromise bill that was introduced by Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina would block Democrats’ attempt to limit or end qualified immunity. For some Democrats like Congresswoman Plaskett, not curbing the legal protection for law enforcement officers is a point of contention.
Progressive freshman Democratic Congresswoman Cori Bush, who served as an activist in St. Louis, Missouri before being elected to the U.S. House, told CNN on Sunday that she is unwilling to support any compromise bill that keeps qualified immunity intact.
“The safety net shouldn’t be there,” Bush told Abby Phillip on Inside Politics. “Where are all of the special protections for nursing and for other people in other positions that do very dangerous work?””
“We compromise on so much. You know, we compromise, we die. We compromise, we die,” Bush added. “I didn’t come to Congress to compromise on what could keep us alive. … If you don’t hurt people, if you don’t kill people, if you are just and fair in your work, then do you need the qualified immunity anyway?”
Since the day former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty in the murder of George Floyd, there have been a handful of police shootings including Isaiah Brown, who is currently fighting for his life after a Virginia deputy shot him multiple times after reportedly mistaking a cordless house phone for a gun.
Additionally, Andrew Brown Jr. was reportedly shot in the head by an officer in Elizabeth City, North Carolina on April 21 after trying to serve a warrant. While police have not said whether or not Brown was armed during the encounter, his family has maintained that he was unarmed.
More widely covered by national press, Ma’Khia Bryant, 16, was fatally by a Columbus, Ohio officer during a fight with others outside her foster home. Video footage appeared to show Bryant with a knife in her hand as she lunged toward a female civilian. The justification of that shooting has been heavily debated about whether or not deadly use of force was necessary.
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