Perspective: A Small Step Forward In The Policing Crisis

Jun 15, 2020

The current crisis concerning policing is so multifaceted that it threatens to overwhelm and immobilize us. What are the root causes? In what order do we address them?

But this is no time for collective handwringing or causal inertia, no time for doing nothing until we can do everything.

A small piece of our problem is the legal concept of "qualified immunity." We can address it now. It is a start. Let us begin.

"Qualified" immunity is actually a misnomer. A judicially created concept, it results in what a Supreme Court justice has labeled "an absolute shield for law enforcement officers."

In order to collect damages in a civil suit, a plaintiff must prove that the officer's misconduct already has been judged illegal in a previous case -- but the precedent must be exact, not just correlative.

The legal conundrum is apparent. There must be a virtually exact precedent for the current case. But where can the original "precedent" have come from? As a conservative legal scholar concluded, "As long as an officer's conduct is uniquely outrageous, it is impossible to hold him accountable..." How can we begin to address excessive force until we can begin to guarantee minimum compensation for its victims?

Current legislative proposals to address this one tiny part of an enormous problem must not be overrated. But should we not at least reassure our fellow citizens that we value justice enough to take this one tiny step?

I'm Bob Evans, and that is my perspective.