Jonathan H. Feinberg and Lauren Bonds are two prominent civil rights lawyers. Feinberg and Bonds both work for the National Police Accountability Project. They’re against qualified immunity (QI). Recently, the civil rights lawyers penned an op-ed against QI for The Philadelphia Inquirer. In their piece, Jonathan H. Feinberg and Lauren Bonds explore the doctrine’s negative impact on policing. Specifically, in Philadelphia.
In The Philadelphia Inquirer, Jonathan H. Feinberg and Lauren Bonds discuss the state of policing in the city of Philadelphia. The civil rights lawyers note that the situation there isn’t good. They write, “Unfortunately, here in Philadelphia, the public has little reason to trust the Philadelphia Police Department [PPD].”
As Feinberg and Bonds explain, there’s a troubling lack of accountability when bad cops from the PPD engage in misconduct. To highlight this, they describe the case of Walter Wallace Jr. In October 2020, the young Black man was fatally shot by two bad cops. He was in the midst of a mental-health crisis. Wallace’s death, the civil rights lawyers note, was preventable.
Feinberg and Bonds also provide this sobering statistic: “A recent analysis showed that only 1% of civilian complaints presented to the PPD’s Internal Affairs Division resulted in discipline for the officers.”
This lack of accountability frustrates Jonathan H. Feinberg and Lauren Bonds. They admit that QI acts as a “significant stumbling block” to their work as civil rights lawyers. Qualified immunity, they say, “packs a particularly harsh blow.”
Solutions to the Doctrine of Qualified Immunity
With that in mind, the civil rights lawyers highlight how other metropolitan areas successfully address the problem of qualified immunity. Particularly, New York City. Feinberg and Bonds indicate how the New York City Council recently passed legislation targeting the doctrine. And they mention the letter the Police Benevolent Association (PBA) sent its members in response. The PBA’s letter stated that limiting QI in NYC was the right thing to do.
Feinberg and Bonds also bring up the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act (JPA), which they endorse. The legal experts mention how the JPA “has garnered support from the civil rights community.” And how, as a whole, the civil rights community embraces the legislation as written. Meaning, activists believe that the provision to end qualified immunity must remain in the bill.
Both in Philadelphia and nationwide, the calls for police reform continue to grow. State and federal lawmakers can’t afford to ignore these calls. “We need individual officers invested in respecting people’s constitutional rights,” Jonathan H. Feinberg and Lauren Bonds write in their op-ed for The Philadelphia Inquirer. “That will only happen if qualified immunity is eliminated.”
Read the entire op-ed by civil rights lawyers Jonathan H. Feinberg and Lauren Bonds here.