On May 8, the Syracuse Post-Standard editorial board came out against qualified immunity (QI). In their piece, the board voiced its support for S 1991, the bill that will repeal the controversial rule in New York. “Qualified immunity,” the board firmly states, “is a barrier to justice, even when authorities commit egregious abuses that defy the Constitution, common sense and basic human dignity.”
As the Syracuse Post-Standard editorial board notes, the Supreme Court, which created QI more than 50 years ago, “has raised the qualified immunity bar so high that few plaintiffs can overcome it—and many don’t even try.” S 1991, sponsored by Senator Robert Jackson and Assemblymember Pamela Hunter, will “[open] the courthouse door to plaintiffs stymied by that high bar.”
The editorial lists a number of cases that “illustrates the absurdity of the qualified immunity defense.” These include “tasering a pregnant woman for refusing to sign a traffic ticket; setting fire to a suicidal man doused with gasoline; shooting a woman four times for holding a knife in a non-threatening manner; and standing idly by while a prisoner strangled himself with a telephone cord after twice attempting it with bedding.” All the bad public officials responsible for these brutalities got off on QI.
“Such outcomes undermine the public’s confidence in law enforcement,” states the Syracuse Post-Standard. Rather than protect law enforcement, QI erodes public safety—and tarnishes the reputation of those good officials who truly care about the communities they serve. Thus, QI “deprives law-abiding police officers of the respect, trust and cooperation they need to do their jobs.”
The board clarifies: “[S 1991] is not anti-police; it is pro-accountability.” Plus, “It’s worth noting that qualified immunity isn’t just for police; it covers other government employees, as well.” However, “the vast majority of cases involve law enforcement or corrections officers.” These officials require higher standards of accountability because they “are charged with protecting human life—and are uniquely equipped to end it.”
The Syracuse Post-Standard editorial board’s opinion reflects that of the general public: recent statewide polling reveals that 58 percent of New Yorkers favor abolishing QI. Mirroring the demand of that outright majority, the board concludes by calling on Albany lawmakers to pass S 1991 and “end qualified immunity now.”
Read the entire Syracuse Post-Standard editorial board piece here.