Follow the Dots

When Floyd’s family goes to court to hold the officers liable for their actions, a judge in Minnesota may very well dismiss their claims. Not because the officers didn’t do anything wrong, but because there isn’t a case from the 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court specifically holding that it is unconstitutional for police to kneel on the neck of a handcuffed man for nearly nine minutes until he loses consciousness and then dies.

And such a specific case is what Floyd’s family must provide to overcome a legal doctrine called “qualified immunity” that shields police and all other government officials from accountability for their illegal and unconstitutional acts.

The Supreme Court created qualified immunity in 1982. With that novel invention, the court granted all government officials immunity for violating constitutional and civil rights unless the victims of those violations can show that the rights were “clearly established.”

Four decades on, qualified immunity routinely shields both the incompetent and those who knowingly violate the law. In the past year alone — along with the two cases above — courts have granted qualified immunity to:

►Officers who stole $225,000.

►A cop who shot a 10-year-old while trying to shoot a nonthreatening family dog.

►Prison officials who locked an inmate in a sewage-flooded cell for days.

►SWAT team members who fired gas grenades into an innocent woman’s empty home.

►Medical board officials who rifled through a doctor’s client files without a warrant.

►County officials who held a 14-year-old in pretrial solitary confinement for over a month.

►A cop who body-slammed a 5-foot-tall woman for walking away from him.

►Police who picked up a mentally infirmed man, drove him to the county line and dropped him off at dusk along the highway, where he was later struck and killed by a motorist.

Police units firing rubber bullets and tear gas at kneeling, non-violent demonstrators in Dallas, Texas./5-31

–Judy Arnold


 Patrick Jaicomo and Annya Bidwell


How Supreme Court splitting hairs operates.


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