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Why Do Police Officers Get Away With Murder Again and Again?

We need business to leverage their power to change a bad law and help end the cycle of state-sponsored killing of unarmed black people.

"If big business wanted to, it could turn its lobbying power loose on overturning the legal doctrine of qualified immunity," writes Cohen, co-founder of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream. (Photo: Liz Gorman)

It happens over and over and over again: A police officer is caught on video killing an unarmed black person. We are outraged. If we’re lucky the officer is prosecuted. Then, a couple of years later, the cops that murdered in our name and with our money—the cops that supposedly represent you and me—get off scot-free or with a slap on the wrist. 

Why does this keep on happening?  The get out of jail free card is a legal loophole known as "qualified immunity" that protects police officers from being held accountable. It makes it so difficult to prosecute and convict a bad cop that legal experts describe the law as so favoring cops that its "heads I win, tails you lose."

In other words, what is called "qualified immunity" allows bad cops to kill with impunity over and over again.

The solution is simple.  Congress could end qualified immunity tomorrow if they have the guts to stand up for justice instead of just kneeling in Kente cloth.

Reps. Justin Amash (L-Mich.) and Ayanna Presley (D-Mass.) have introduced bipartisan legislation to do just that—to stop legally condoning egregious police misconduct.  

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But it's only going to happen if business people decide to use their overwhelming clout in Congress.

Since the murder of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis, corporations have issued statements in support of Black Americans. They have announced sizable donations to various organizations working for justice.  They have announced internal initiatives to drive racist practices out of their activities and to pro-actively create more diverse ranks of executives, board members, suppliers, and franchisees. Each corporation will need to adopt measurable goals and objectives and timelines which are appropriate to their individual business. The company which we started has a long way to go until justice is real within our own practices.

But two things we can all agree on: 1) it is wrong for police to kill unarmed people; 2) Big business is the most powerful force on Capitol Hill.  Businesses and industry groups employ 10,000 lobbyists (that’s an average of 20 lobbyists for each member of Congress) and spend over $3 billion each year in order to pass legislation in their own corporate self-interest.  

Let’s use the power of business to fight for justice. Businesses could still lobby in their own self-interest, just take a little off the top and use it to walk the talk. Smaller businesses that don't employ their own lobbyists in D.C. can sign on to this letter from business leaders to Congress. Simply donating to good causes or posting slogans that Black Lives Matter won’t cut it. We need business to leverage their power to change a bad law and help end the cycle of state-sponsored killing of unarmed black people. 

If big business wanted to, it could turn its lobbying power loose on overturning the legal doctrine of qualified immunity.  And it would be a done deal.

Ben Cohen

Ben Cohen is an American businessman, activist, philanthropist, and co-chair to Bernie Sanders 2020 presidential campaign. He is a co-founder of the ice cream company Ben & Jerry's.

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