By: Christopher Cyrek
August 18, 2020
Judge Carlton Reeves, District Judge for Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, recently issued a critical analysis of the current crisis surrounding Qualified Immunity. In it, he quotes the words of the Federal Fourth Circuit words that we hope will one day no longer have to be set forth by judges and politicians.“Although we recognize that our police officers are often asked to make split-second decisions, we expect them to do so with respect for the dignity and worth of black lives.”Judge Reeves blisters the Fourth Amendment violations that so often underpin abuses of the Qualified Immunity clause, explaining:“At this point, Officer McClendon “scrunched down,” placed his hand into the car, and patted the inside of the passenger door. As he did this, Officer McClendon made his fourth request saying, “Come on, man. Let me search your car.” Officer McClendon moved his arm further into the car at this point, while patting it with his hand. As if four asks were not enough, Officer McClendon then made his fifth and final request. He lied again, “I need to search your car . . . because I got the phone call [about] 10 kilos of cocaine.”The simple question presented here: how can communities of color be expected to trust Law Enforcement, when Law Enforcement so often lies, without consequence, to the grave determinant of our people?Clarence Jamison, a man just like any other, when confronted by a police officer dead-set on finding criminality, attempted to assert his rights multiple times From the Courts issuance, again:Officer McClendon admitted in his deposition that he did not find “anything suspicious whatsoever.” However, he asked Jamison if he could “deploy [his] canine.” Jamison says he initially refused. Officer McClendon asked again, though, and Jamison relented, saying “Yes, go ahead.” Officer McClendon “deployed [his] dog around the vehicle.” The dog gave no indication, “so it confirmed that there was nothing inside the vehicle.”This routine traffic stop lasted almost two hours, total. Thankfully, Mr. Jamison was eventually allowed togo on his way.
Unusually, Jamison decided that simply retaining his God-given was not enough. His rights had been violated, and so the case found its way to this District Court.Although the outcome that night avoided tragedy, we can plainly see from its description the abuses and degradations afforded communities of color when the carte blanche provided by Qualified Immunity is leveraged into overt racism.This is more than just a story of yet another unremarked abuse of authority, however. Judge Reeves provides, in his lengthy opinion, the legal framework to advance the much needed re-evaluation of Qualified Immunity as precedent.He cites, specifically:Section 1 of the Ku Klux Act, now codified as 42 U.S.C. § 1983, uniquely target[ing] state officials who “deprived persons of their constitutional rights.”To the layman, the text enshrined in this law should be obvious and plain. It is true that almost nothing in the realm of Law is obvious, or plain. Nonetheless, it is the hope of this Network that the sound reasoning that underpins Judge Reeves argument should be brought to the public consciousness.We will be working towards that end in the coming days and weeks, well aware of the fact that, to quote Judge Reeves, “the status quo is extraordinary and unsustainable.”The complete, unedited Opinion of the Court can be found at the following link. We encourage everyone to take the time to read it, and circulate it. The law, after all, is on our side.