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To 'Ensure Justice and Accountability for Police Brutality,' Pressley Leads New Bill to End Qualified Immunity

"There can be no justice without healing and accountability, and there can be no true accountability with qualified immunity."

Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) speaks as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) looks on during a press conference about student debt outside the U.S. Capitol on February 4, 2021 in Washington, D.C.

Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) speaks as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) looks on during a press conference about student debt outside the U.S. Capitol on February 4, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Rep. Ayanna Pressley and two of her fellow Massachusetts Democrats introduced legislation Monday to abolish qualified immunity, a decades-old legal doctrine that shields police officers from civil liability and—according to critics—allows law enforcement to get away with brutality and murder.

In a statement, Pressley said the doctrine of qualified immunity has for too long "shielded law enforcement from accountability and denied recourse for the countless families robbed of their loved ones."

"There can be no justice without healing and accountability, and there can be no true accountability with qualified immunity," Pressley added. "We must act with urgency. We must be bold and unapologetic in our pursuit of policy that increases police accountability and addresses the crisis of police brutality plaguing Black and brown communities."

Joining Pressley in unveiling the Ending Qualified Immunity Act of 2021 (pdf) were Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), both of whom echoed Pressley's characterization of the legal doctrine as an enabler of the kinds of police abuses that killed George Floyd and sparked a nationwide uprising last year.

"It's cases like Daniel Prude, Elijah McClain, and countless others that make clear our justice system is failing to hold accountable law enforcement officers who engage in police brutality and kill Black and brown Americans," Markey said in a statement.

"It's time we end the outdated and judge-made doctrine of qualified immunity," Markey added, "and start delivering accountability for the officers who abuse their positions of trust and responsibility in our communities. There will not be true racial justice until we end qualified immunity."

As Pressley's office notes in a summary (pdf) of the new legislation, "Congress granted individuals the right to sue state and local officials who violate their rights, including police officers, in the Civil Rights Act of 1871, now found under Section 1983."

"However, since 1967 the Supreme Court has issued several decisions gutting this protection by inventing the qualified immunity doctrine, rendering police officers from being successfully sued for misconduct, negligence, or abuse, a unique protection that no other profession holds," the summary states.

If passed, the Ending Qualified Immunity Act would, according to Pressley's office, "amend Section 1983 to explicitly state that the qualified immunity doctrine invented by the Supreme Court does NOT provide police officers that brutalize or otherwise violate civil rights with defense or immunity from liability for their actions."

The Intercept, which first reported the new bill's introduction Monday, noted that the measure comes as the House is set to vote on the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act (JPA) of 2021, legislation that contains provisions to reform but not end qualified immunity.

"A group of moderate lawmakers—including Reps. Josh Gottheimer, (D-N.J.); Tom O'Halleran, (D-Ariz); and Fred Upton, (R-Mich.)—is now pushing to water down the JPA's provision on qualified immunity before the bill comes to the House floor for a vote," The Intercept reported, citing a Politico story from last week. "They are arguing that the current provision will endanger their chances of reelection and make it harder to work with Republicans down the road."

Speaking to The Intercept, Pressley slammed that group's efforts as "bad-faith attempts from people in the pockets of special interests spreading misinformation to undermine our progress on ending qualified immunity."

"We will not back down in our pursuit of true justice and accountability," Pressley said.

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