June 3, 2020

Contact: Steven Nekhaila,
Chairman, Libertarian Party of Florida
[email protected]

KEY WEST, Fla. – Like most Americans, we watched in deep sadness as the sad events unfolded this weekend following George Floyd’s brutal death under the knee of Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin on May 25. What began as noisy, non-violent protests quickly devolved into violence, looting, and the all-to-familiar excessive law enforcement response. Now there are more deaths, both protesters and law enforcement.

We share the anger and outrage over this senseless death. No person should ever die while in the custody of law enforcement. While law enforcement officers certainly may defend themselves against injury, their job is not to protect themselves, it is to uphold the common law and to protect individuals from harm.

This past weekend, the son of Miami-Dade Libertarian Party Chair Marialexandra Garcia and his friend attended the protests in downtown Miami. As the gathering grew increasingly violent, Miami-Dade police started firing rubber pellets and tear-gas into the assembled.  During the confusion that followed, the friend was struck in the throat by a rubber pellet and may need surgery. Just for holding a sign.

Damage to private property is no way to vent anger in response to wrongful acts. Vandalism and Looting are crimes. Ace Hardware, Target and AT&T were among more than 300 businesses damaged or looted in Minneapolis last weekend. Not one of those businesses or their staff killed George Floyd. Not one.

We understand the anger in the face of overwhelming injustice. This pattern of systemic suppression of African Americans repeats itself from the horrors of slavery right through to recent deaths at the hands of law enforcement. There remain few hammers out of poverty for African Americans, and little recourse against excessive and even brutal policing. Even the person’s right to seek civil damages against unconstitutional police acts was stripped by the courts in the 1970s.

These protests are nothing new for many of us. We saw the same images on grainy televisions back in the late 1960s when African Americans tried to break through those poverty walls during the Civil Rights Era. Peaceful, non-violent protests often grew into looting and burning followed by militaristic police responses. Today, we may have better TV Screens, but they still show the same images.


Little Recourse

Victims of violent policing have little recourse. The Civil Rights Act of 1871 was supposed to provide the public civil recourse against the unconstitutional wrongdoings of public officials, including law enforcement.[i] However, the law had many loopholes and was often difficult to uphold.[ii] Even some court decisions in the 1960s reinforced citizen’s ability to sue law enforcement.[iii] Yet those legal protections were effectively gutted in the mid-1970s when the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the concepts of “qualified” and “absolute” immunity from lawsuits.[iv]

In essence, the Supreme Court held that absolute immunity shields prosecutors and other officials from being sued while performing their duties, regardless of their honesty or the ramifications.[v] Qualified immunity protects police from brutality lawsuits as long as they were performing their duties in good faith. It required the plaintiff to prove systemic misconduct; an isolated act of misdeed was protected. This was a pretty large loophole that freed many police regardless of death and damage from their acts.


A Start

On Monday, Libertarian Congressman Justin Amash (MI-3rd) proposed the Ending Qualified Immunity Act which would end the Supreme Court’s decisions to allow police qualified immunity from civil recourse to their actions. This would require the courts to stick more closely to the intent of 1871 act and grant citizens greater opportunities for remedy.

“The brutal killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police is merely the latest in a long line of incidents of egregious police misconduct,” Amash wrote his colleagues this week. “This pattern continues because police are legally, politically, and culturally insulated from consequences for violating the rights of the people whom they have sworn to serve. That must change so that these incidents of brutality stop happening.”

The Libertarian Party of Florida endorses Amash’s proposal as a step to right decades of wrong. Since its creation in 1987, the LPF supports the civil rights of every man woman and child in the United States. The LPF supports the right of any person to peacefully speak out against what they believe is injustice and to seek relief when they believe they are wronged. We hope few will disagree.

– By J. Mark Barfield, Staff Writer


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