The Boston Globe recently published an op-ed on qualified immunity (QI). In her op-ed for the Globe, staff writer Kimberly Atkins supports ending the doctrine. Her piece focuses on bipartisan negotiations surrounding the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.
For Atkins, there can be no true police reform without ending qualified immunity.
As Atkins notes, lawmakers across the aisle hope to reach an agreement by May 25. That’s President Joe Biden’s deadline for Congress to pass police reform legislation. May 25 is also the one-year anniversary of Geroge Floyd’s death.
Leading these negotiations are two policymakers. They are Democratic Representative Karen Bass and Republican Senator Tim Scott. As it stands, Democrats fully endorse the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. However, Republicans have a problem with certain provisions.
The biggest sticking point is qualified immunity.
Currently, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act aims to repeal qualified immunity for police officers. Ending QI is an issue Rep. Bass and other progressives feel strongly about. On the other hand, conservatives are uneasy about abolishing the doctrine. (Tim Scott, Kimberly Atkins writes, once called ending QI a “poison pill” for Republicans.)
Instead, Sen. Scott seeks to compromise. Atkins mentions that the senator proposes revised legislation. Specifically, he wants to shift the burden of accountability from individual officers to police departments.
“We do that with doctors. We do that with lawyers. We do that in almost all of our industries,” Sen. Scott told CBS’ Face the Nation. “And if we do that in law enforcement, the employer will change the culture.”
However, Kimberly Atkins disagrees with Tim Scott’s view. The Boston Globe writer argues that the Republican senator’s proposal is not enough. It doesn’t uphold real accountability. In fact, Sen. Scott’s proposal waters down the robust measures in the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. Measures to fully end qualified immunity for bad cops.
“As a former civil litigation attorney, I can assure Scott that he is wrong,” Atkins says.
She explains: “Lawyers and doctors can be held personally liable for malpractice, which is why they carry malpractice insurance.” Atkins then elaborates on how state licensing authorities can punish doctors and lawyers for misconduct. If their “conduct rises to criminality,” these bad actors can be prosecuted. So, as individuals, they are held accountable. “And, generally speaking, [lawyers and doctors] don’t carry guns on the job,” Kimberly Atkins observes.
As part of her argument for ending qualified immunity, Atkins indicates how “true police reform can transcend partisan divisions.” Her example: The Ending Qualified Immunity Act. This federal bill wants to eliminate QI for all public officials. As Atkins points out, when this act was originally introduced last year, it was sponsored by Republican-turned-Libertarian Justin Amash and Democrat Ayanna Pressley.
Read Kimberly Atkins’ Boston Globe op-ed here.