The murder of George Floyd by police in Minnesota has brought demands for racial justice to a pitched boil after generations of racial profiling, police violence, and failed promises for reform in the criminal justice system. Mr. Floyd’s murder is just the latest of countless Black men needlessly killed by police, a reality that is a traumatic wound in the collective soul of people of color in America.
What does it say about the state of policing in this country when a 90-year-old grandmother rushes out of her home to protect her 21-year-old grandson lying face down on the ground, unarmed and arms stretched out, as a contingent of at least a dozen police officers stands by with guns drawn, barking orders. An encounter the police alleged began after the suspect rolled through a stop sign.
Militarized Police Quick to Resort to Force
Dallas attorney Justin Moore who represents the grandson, Tye Anders, said Midland police racially profiled Anders during a May 18, 2020 traffic stop.
“As Tye [lay] on the ground compliant, yet scared,” Moore told a local media outlet, “his 90-year-old grandmother came out to deescalate this high-stress situation by praying for her grandson and officers. That also didn’t work. As the officers approached, they ended up assaulting her and knocking the 90-year-old woman to the ground.”
A police homicide tragedy was probably averted by this brave woman when she fell on top of her frightened grandson as he lay on the ground.
Unarmed Man Killed by Austin Police
On April 24, 2020, Mark Ramos was not so lucky.
Two Austin police officers killed the 42-year-old unarmed black and Hispanic man. Ramos’ hands were raised in surrender when one officer, who only had three months of on-the-job experience, shot him in the chest with a non-lethal “bean bag.” Ramos jumped into his vehicle and fled down a dead-end road in a desperate effort to save his life. There he was killed by multiple rounds fired from a rifle by another officer who, just ten months earlier, had shot and killed an unarmed college professor suffering from a mental health crisis.
Incidents Illustrate Military Tactics Used by Police
Both incidents dramatically reflect the lethal way police across the country interact with communities of color.
In August 2019, the Washington Post reported that there had been nearly 4,400 fatal shootings by “on-duty” police officers in the United States since the August 2015 shooting of Michael Brown by Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson.
Although African-Americans represent just 13 percent of the U.S. population, at least 25 percent of the fatal police shooting victims are black. Many of these deadly shootings involved young, unarmed African-American men who were racially profiled and killed by white police officers. In fact, the Post reported that unarmed black men are four times more likely to be killed by the police than unarmed white men.
Houston Leads Texas Cities in Fatal Police Shootings
The Post report revealed that more than 2,500 police departments shot and killed at least one person between 2015 and 2019. Three Texas police departments—Houston with 30 fatal police shootings, followed by San Antonio with 27 and Austin with 25—graced the list of the top 20 departments involved in deadly shootings.
Many of these fatal shootings involved blatant police misconduct, with few of the law enforcement officers being held criminally or civilly liable for their wrongdoing.
As George Will reported in a May 13, 2020 piece for the Washington Post, 10 of the eleven cases before the U.S. Supreme Court this Term seeking redress for civil rights violations involve law enforcement officers.
Qualified Immunity Protects Bad Cops
Rogue police officers who violate the civil rights of citizens do so with the understanding that the doctrine of qualified immunity will protect them from liability.
The Cato Institute calls the 1982 Supreme Court creation of qualified immunity “a court-confected doctrine that provides rights-violating police and other government officials with what Cato has described as an ‘unlawful shield’ against accountability for their misconduct.”
Will observed that “The Supreme Court’s consideration [this term] of this avalanche of petitions suggests that the court is reconsidering its mistake in creating qualified immunity. This doctrine has essentially nullified accountability for law enforcement and other government officers even in cases where violations of constitutional rights are indisputable.”
Will, however, cautioned that in the past 30 cases in which the Supreme Court has dealt with the qualified immunity issue, it has only denied immunity to individuals seeking protection from the doctrine in just two of those cases.
In September 2019 blog, we said “qualified immunity smacks of unqualified impunity.”
We stand by that assessment to this day. Officers across the Country know the doctrine of qualified immunity will protect their actions from accountability. That is why police continuously act with such lawless impunity all across this nation. The QI doctrine gives them the power to do as they please, including the knowing violations of a law-abiding citizen’s civil rights. They do it because they get away with it.
Hopefully, the Supreme Court will take the opportunity this term to either eliminate or, at the very least, curtail the doctrine. It is time bad cops and the departments that enable their criminal actions be held accountable.