Qualified Immunity on the Chopping Block

A Mississippi federal judge has challenged the qualified immunity defense that police officers use to deflect responsibility for their degrading treatment of suspects and innocent citizens.

In Jamison v. McClendon, U.S. District Court Judge Carlton Reeves recently concluded that Officer Nick McClendon violated Clarence Jamison’s Fourth Amendment rights when he subjected Jamison to a nearly two-hour ordeal that included badgering, pressuring, lying and intrusively searching his car. But the judge’s hands were tied by the qualified immunity doctrine so he was forced to deny Jamison’s legal claim. Reeves, an African American man, traced the development of the law and the institutional racism and police brutality that continue to plague our society. “Black people in this country are acutely aware of the danger traffic stops pose to Black lives,” the judge wrote.

Police behavior in the Jamison case is reminiscent of the United States in the 1930s when American citizens considered themselves safer on the streets than inside their local police precincts. Rubber-hose torture was a way of beating a confession or information out of a hapless captive of any color or creed while leaving their outer skin largely unmarked. Its use was common until the Supreme Court outlawed it. Times have changed. The domestic terror and psychological abuse of the rubber-hose treatment has emerged again with the aid of plausible disguises afforded by the drug war. Jamison v. McClendon is likely to be appealed and decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

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