Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., Testifies during the House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing titled “Birthing While Black: Investigating the Black Maternal Health Crisis in America” on Thursday, May 6, 2021 at the Rayburn Building.
Tom Williams | CQ Roll Call, Inc. | Getty Images
Ten House progressives on Friday called on Congressmen to end qualified immunity in an evolving police reform bill as a dispute over whether to weaken rules to protect civil servants from civil suits blocks progress towards a bipartisan deal.
Lawmakers, led by Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., Sen. Tim Scott, RS.C., and Sen. Cory Booker, DN.J., have worked to devise a plan that will win Republican support that could be required to get through both houses of congress. They have tried to tweak a bill passed by the House of Representatives, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which aims, among other things, to ban chokeholds, carotid holds and no-knock warrants and end qualified immunity.
The civil action protection officers are now the main obstacle to passing reform bill in response to the largest movement against systemic racism and police violence in decades. Congress will allow President Joe Biden to pass police legislation until May 25th, the year-old Missing the anniversary of the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin mistook his knee for Floyd’s neck for about nine minutes.
In the letter sent to top Senate and Republican Democrats and Republicans in the Senate and House of Representatives on Friday, the 10 House Democrats said they were “concerned” at the prospect of negotiators removing qualified immunity language in order to close a bipartisan deal.
“Given that police violence as a weapon of structural racism continues to have devastating and deadly consequences for the lives of blacks and browns in our country, we urge you not only to maintain the provision on the elimination of qualified immunity during the negotiations in the Senate but to strengthen, “wrote the legislature, which included representatives Cori Bush from Missouri and Ayanna Pressley from Massachusetts.
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The negotiators for police reforms have been holding talks for weeks to reach a bipartisan deal. The urge to reach an agreement stems from police using force against black Americans, including in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, where the sheriff’s deputies fatally shot 42-year-old Andrew Brown Jr. a month ago.
It is now unclear what both parties would accept as a qualified immunity compromise. The 10 House Democrats did not explicitly threaten to vote against a bill if it did not weaken the rules protecting civil servants from lawsuits. However, their opposition alone could sink the legislation in the House if a bill doesn’t win a significant percentage of the GOP vote.
Bass – chairman of the Black Caucus of Congress and lead author of the plan passed by Parliament – earlier this week downplayed the need to meet Biden’s deadline while lawmakers ultimately pass a law. With House leaving Washington for the next three weeks, Congress is unlikely to approve the legislation until next month at the earliest.
“The most important thing is that we have a bill that comes in on the president’s desk, not the date it appears,” Bass said on Tuesday.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki added Thursday that the White House is “in close contact” with lawmakers and “would certainly give in to the expectations of key negotiators here.”
Scott had previously circulated the prospect of permission for law enforcement agencies, rather than individual officers, to bring civil actions. When asked Tuesday whether the negotiators are making progress on qualified immunity, Scott said, “I think every time we meet we make progress.”
Some Senate Republicans have raised concerns that the abolition of a qualified immunity would open officials and departments to a wide variety of lawsuits. Others have denied Chauvin’s conviction for second-degree murder, among other charges. This shows that the current system can hold officials accountable for wrongdoing.
In their letter to the leaders of Congress, the 10 House Democrats pointed out that convictions – or even criminal charges – are rare in police killings.
“Due to qualified immunity, police killings regularly go with impunity. It has been a long time since this ended,” they wrote.
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