What is Police Immunity? The George Floyd Case--What does it really mean?
Updated: Feb 23
Disturbing photos of the Minnesota police officer kneeling on George Floyd’s neck have taken over our thoughts and social media. Another inhumane killing forever imprinted into the essence of America’s brain. It makes you question whether liberty and justice actually exist.
Though the police officers involved in George Floyd’s murder are now facing charges, it is extremely unusual as thousands of instances involving excessive police force go unprosecuted. Public frustration and anger have led to urgent demands for justice in cities across the county.
Several legal scholars and political activists across the nation are pushing for an end to police immunity. This could make police officers and governmental entities liable for money damages in Civil Court. Currently, police immunity allows protection for government officials from civil lawsuits for actions (i.e., murdering an unarmed suspect) performed in their official duties. Such immunity is applicable in many situations in either a criminal or civil matter.
The United States Supreme Court and several lower court rulings are usually in favor of police immunity in many cases. The reason behind police immunity is that if police officers are enforcing the law in good faith and with probable cause, that police officer or police department should not endure any legal liability. The justification for this has been understood to excuse the most outrageous of police misconduct, including the murder of unarmed suspects. Many of these suspects are usually black citizens.
As it stands now, the rationale of police immunity is a huge problem. Though prosecuting abusive police officers is a huge step in the appropriate direction, it is nowhere close to being effective. The threat of incarceration has to be accompanied by the threat of severe financial justice to the victims or their loved ones. Government leaders are more likely to punish abusive police officers and push for better training for safer police interactions when an officer’s conduct will cost the city millions of dollars.