Police accountability and reforms are needed

Published 4:41 pm Tuesday, February 7, 2023

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To the Editor:

“I expect you to feel what the Nichols family feels. I expect you to feel outrage in the disregard of basic human rights, as our police officers have taken an oath to do the opposite of what transpired on the video…” NPR

This statement was made by Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis recently after she was pressed for answers by the news media regarding the sadistic beating of Tyre Nichols by five Black police officers from the Scorpion Unit of the Memphis Police Department (MPD). National and international communities are outraged by what some commentators called a “lynching”.

Some folks have drawn comparisons with the savage beating of Rodney King on March 3, 1991 in Los Angeles. King survived the beating and, during a May 1st television appearance in 1992, pleaded, “I just want to say–you know–Can we…Can we all get along? Can we stop making it hard for the older people and the kids?”

King showed grace while police officers beat him mercilessly.

Similarly, Tyre Nichols was very kind, trying to reason with officers as they taunted and tortured the 29-year-old Black man who only wanted to get home to his family. Interestingly, there had been previous complaints about the same officers. Some citizens reportedly called the Internal Review Board of the MPD, but to no avail.

How do we hold rogue cops accountable? A key factor in the solution is the elimination of ‘qualified immunity’. This term was coined by various judges to provide safeguards for officers hiding under the Color of Blue after they have argued that their brutal actions against targeted citizens were justified in the interest of public safety.

Moreover, the recent prosecution of Derek Chauvin for his role in killing George Floyd in Minneapolis has led to discussions regarding the need to abolish qualified immunity and hold all law enforcement officers accountable.

According to Wikipedia, “qualified immunity is a legal principle that grants government officials performing discretionary functions immunity from civil suits unless the plaintiff shows that the official violated ‘clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.’”

Additionally, the Institute of Justice posits, “To show that a right is clearly established, a victim must identify an earlier decision by the Supreme Court or federal appeals courts in the same jurisdiction holding that precisely the same conduct under the same circumstances is illegal or unconstitutional.”

The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021 was drafted to combat police misconduct, exercise force, and racial bias in policing. Endorsed by more than 100 civil rights groups, the Act sought to hold law enforcement accountable for misconduct in court, reform police training and policies, and improve transparency. Unified Republican opposition effectively killed the measure.

Keith W. Cooper