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How Qualified Immunity Protects Police Officers

Police officers clash with protestors near the White House on June 1, 2020 as demonstrations against George Floyd's death continue.
Police officers clash with protestors near the White House on June 1, 2020 as demonstrations against George Floyd's death continue.

Law enforcement officers have come under even more scrutiny in the wake of the massive protests against police brutality in cities across the United States. Although the protests began over the killing of George Floyd by former police officer Derek Chauvin, some are also calling for further police accountability over the use of violent tactics.

Since then, multiple cities have experienced an increasingly militarized police force, along with the deployment of the National Guard and even federal agencies in Washington D.C. Thousands have been arrested, and some have been injured following the use of pepper spray, tears gas, and rubber bullets.

Now, some are questioning an obscure law that grants law enforcement the ability to operate with little liability.

Known as qualified immunity, the law provides officials with broad protection from federal lawsuits. Qualified immunity has been cited as a legal hurdle for the family of Breonna Taylor, who was killed in her home by police officers in Louisville, KY.

For Shaniz West, law enforcement left her homeless after bombarding her house with shotgun shells and grenades. She’s suing the officers for violating her Fourth Amendment rights.

And in the case of  West v. Winfield, the Supreme Court will soon decide whether the law should be reconsidered. Here’s what Robert McNamara, the lead attorney of the case,  said to The New York Times :

“Nobody seriously believes that consent to enter a home is permission to lob grenades into it. But no court has ever decided the question, because as far as I can tell, this is the first time anybody has made the argument,” Mr. McNamara writes. “Since no court has considered it, qualified immunity means Ms. West loses. As long as an official’s conduct is uniquely outrageous, it’s impossible to hold him liable for it.”

We talk about the purpose of qualified immunity and whether it will be rolled back.

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