We Need Our Options Open to Kill Black Folks

Lafe Tolliver

By Lafe Tolliver, Esq
Guest Column

Well, it will come as no surprise that negotiations on Capitol Hill regarding serious police reform has fizzled out. It is being reported that negotiations on police accountability have hit a stone wall and the parties have disengaged, for the moment.

Police reform, real police reform will not materialize in a Republican-held Senate and an “iffy” House of Representatives whose Republican members are always looking over their shoulder at their fearless leader, Herr Trump, for his approval or disapproval.

When you count heads in the House and in the Senate and determine that the votes that come from “red” states will doom police reform, is it any wonder that significant police changes are a lot of bluster and smoke with no real teeth?

On a jaded note, the rank and file of the police unions want their options open to shoot and kill people of color and then be able to duck and hide under the cloak of “qualified immunity” which basically gives rogue cops a license to kill.

Qualified immunity, if left unchanged, gives bad cops a reason to smile because they are familiar with the Herculean burden it takes to show that a bad cop had malice, ill-will or intent to harm or hurt a dead or near-dead suspect.

Without qualified immunity, cases like Sandra Bland and Breonna Taylor would be proceeding towards a trial or a settlement along with Tamir Rice and other Blacks who died under highly questionable fact patterns.

Without qualified immunity, the law would allow lawsuits against rogue cops to at least reach a jury for their deliberations as opposed to being gutted in the early stages of the legal process.

In today’s, “shoot ‘em up” society, police shoot first and worry later about being indicted for murder or manslaughter charges because their unions will man the ramparts for them and howl to the moon about cops being in the line of danger, which they are, at times.

Police unions do not want civilian control over their internal policies and procedures because they want the power to protect their own, even when their “own” act devilish and as executioners of those they have sworn to “protect and serve.”

As a civil rights attorney and a reader of situations and caselaw across this country regarding the outcomes of what happens when police shoot and they then go, “silent”, it is extremely frustrating to see the procrastinations of police unions doing back flips in protecting rogue cops who use their badge and gun to murder others.  Walter Scott…anyone?

You would think that after the national and international uproar about the murder of George Floyd that sensible police reform would be a no brainer, but it wasn’t because when the fervor cooled down, the police unions put away their crying towels and went back to the serious business of making sure no one steps on their turf… no one.

Not even Congress has the moral fortitude to say no to powerful police unions and lobbyists.

After all, we are simply talking about Black people and other people of color which only demonstrates that the value systemin place in America does not recognize the value of Black people being worthy of life.

Quite frankly, if all things were equal, there should not even be discussions of the need for police reform since all American citizens would be viewed through a lens of having equal value and thus not subject to arbitrary and capricious standards of who should live and who should die when racially jaded police encounter Black people.

Changes to the law/principle of qualified immunity could look like the following:

(1) No law enforcement personnel, part time or full time, and regardless of their rank or status shall do, commit or conspire to enable any of the following acts, directly or indirectly

(a) use deadly force when other immediate methods of resolution are available and accessible.

(b) conspire with other law enforcement personnel to deprive any citizen, arrestee, of his or her civil rights to be free from false or wrongful incarceration or imprisonment unless due process rights are afforded to that person.

(c) no command officer shall knowingly allow, engage, permit or condone any act of violence or mis treatment against any detained person or, allow others under their command to do so.

(d) all law enforcement personnel shall be subject to the same terms of bond, detainment, detention, arrest and imprisonment as the citizens that they are engaged to protect and serve when they are brought before a court of law to answer for police misconduct charges.

(e) all law enforcement personnel, just as the citizens that they are sworn to protect and serve, shall be entitled to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty by a judge or a jury of their peers.

(f) except for matters of juveniles and national security concerns, all information relating to charges of police misconduct shall be considered as the public’s right to review unless a judge issues an order withholding such information due to its sensitive nature, or its release would impair the rights of the accused to a fair and impartial hearing or trial.

(g) all law enforcement personnel can be subject to civil liability for their acts of misconduct and the time frame to bring such a civil case shall be within four years from the date of the harmful act, injury or legal infraction.

(h) any law enforcement personnel that has been found by a judge or a jury to have engaged in intentional conduct depriving or denying an arrestee or a citizen of their civil rights to be free from police misconduct, shall be denied any accumulated pension rights and shall be immediately discharged from their employment.

(i) punitive damages may be assessed against the law enforcement personnel who engaged in

Illegal conduct and against their employer (city or state) for their failure to properly supervise the convicted law enforcement personnel when the record of the convicted person shows a history of aberrant conduct against the public.

(j) There shall be a national public registry for the required listing or filing of all police officers who have been found guilty of willful conduct against the public and that registry shall be accessible to the public. The filings shall be permanent.

(k) In the event that an accused police officer resigns before he is charged or convicted by a judge or a jury, that resignation shall also be part of the national registry and such resignation shall not protect the pension rights of the named officer.

Basically, the above protections will not be needed if cities and municipalities engaged in stronger vetting procedures of police candidates and intervene with offending police officers when matters are initially brought to the attention of the police chief and Mayor’s office for immediate disciplinary actions.

Real police reform is both needed and possible but only if the powers that be, view citizens, black or white, as people of value and worth.

Contact Lafe Tolliver at tolliver@juno.com