Derek Perkinson on the Racist History of QI

Derek Perkinson, a civil rights strategist and New York State field director for the National Action Network, relates the racist history of qualified immunity (QI) in a recent op-ed for the Gotham Gazette. In his piece, Perkinson voices support for S 1991, the popular bill to end qualified immunity in New York. 

“In the period following the Civil War, slavery had ended, but the horrors of racial violence persisted,” Derek Perkinson says. As he explains, it was during this time that the Ku Klux Klan emerged, terrorizing newly emancipated citizens with “vile forms of intimidation and brutality.” In response, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1871 (aka the Ku Klux Klan Act). This measure “gave Black Americans the right to file a lawsuit against government officials who engaged in acts of racial assault or who refused to protect them from groups such as the Klan.”

However, the Supreme Court “rolled back these hard-won rights” in 1967, when they modified the act by creating qualified immunity. Furthermore, Perkinson notes, the Court awarded QI to police officers who arrested Freedom Fighters protesting for racial justice in Mississippi. 

“The long line of governmental abuse of Black people in this country did not begin with qualified immunity,” Derek Perkinson states in his op-ed. “But this harmful doctrine, a relic of the Jim Crow era, certainly enables it. To create a more just future for all New Yorkers, we must end qualified immunity today.”

Creating a more just New York is exactly what S 1991 intends to do, which is why Perkinson backs the bill. Albany lawmakers “can fix the Supreme Court’s tremendous misstep” by passing S 1991 and finally allow victims to sue the rogue officials who violated their civil rights.  

“As it stands, the legal system breeds impunity. This has got to stop. We must change the system in order to protect our communities from governmental abuse. As we reflect upon the past, we also renew our commitment to creating a more equitable future. Ending qualified immunity will make New York safe for everyone,” Derek Perkinson concludes. 

Read the entire Derek Perkinson op-ed here.