Close Legal Loopholes
Federal legislation has been passed in efforts to protect minority groups from being targeted and brutalized by the police. These pieces of legislation are weak for many of the same reasons. They have been additionally rendered ineffective by generations of counter-legislation. SIIP supports efforts to make specific reforms to the following pieces of legislation:
18 USC 242 : Deprivation of Rights Under the Color of Law
In 1866, the federal government made its first attempt to curb abuses by law enforcement with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1866. Section 18 USC 242 of this act, which is still applied today, was written specifically to confront the use of law enforcement by southern confederates attempting undermine federal authority and prevent free slaves from exercising their new Constitutional rights. In efforts to reassert federal control, the 18 USC 242 authorized the US Attorney General to file charges against law enforcement offices suspected of deprivation of rights under the color of law; however, individuals were not authorized with the right to bring charges. As a result, the policy did very little to protect the black community from police violence. This pathway to justice was not effective then, and it is not effective now. Political murders skyrocketed, and an overwhelming number of these were carried out through lynchings and law enforcement. SIIP supports efforts to:
42 USC 1983: Civil Action for the Deprivation of Rights
Attempting again to assert control over rebelling states, the government passed another series of acts designed to halt southern resistance to federal authority. These Acts, known as the Enforcement Acts, ended with the KKK Act of 1871. This policy specifically recognized the threat posed by law enforcement acting as an extension of state rebellion networks and white supremacy organizations. The KKK Act authorized the president to suspend habeas corpus and use military force to contain state rebellion. It also granted individuals the right to bring charges against a law enforcement officers for the deprivation of rights. Additionally, in a rare admission of jury bias, the federal government appointed all black juries to try KKK Act violations for fear that all white juries would undermine conviction.
These strategies proved to be very effective. So effective, in fact, that the KKK was disbanded in less than a year. It would not be able to reemerge until 1915. After its initial implementation, though, the law fell out of use. It would later be recodified as 42 USC 1983 and revived as a tool against law enforcement; however, this act has yet to bring relief to target communities. Even so, the KKK Act was the only federal protection against police brutality authorized for almost 100 years. After its revival, it was significantly weakened by three rulings by the Supreme Court of the United States. SIIP encourages efforts to overturn the following rulings:
Harlow vs. Fitzgerald (1982)
In the case of Harlow vs. Fitzgerald (1982), the court ruled that “government officials performing discretionary functions generally are shielded from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” In other words, law enforcement officers were granted the authority to deny an individual of their Constitutional rights so long as they establish that they didn’t know that they were violating those rights at the time.
Tennessee vs. Garner (1985)
In Tennessee vs. Garner (1985), the Supreme Court outlined when deadly force can and cannot be used against a civilian. Under this test, the suspect must possess a deadly weapon, pose a probable cause of threat, or be accused of a crime involving injury or death. Initially passed to restrict use of deadly force against unarmed, fleeing suspects, this test in practice has become a way for law enforcement to use excessive and deadly force without consequence. For example, this loophole has been used to allow officers to escape conviction for murdering unarmed civilians by claiming they thought the victim was armed, even when an investigation proves otherwise.
Graham vs. Connor (1989)
In Graham vs. Connor (1989), the Court added the “objective reasonableness” standard to the prosecution of Fourth Amendment violations. In their ruling, the court found that the “’reasonableness’ of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, and its calculus must embody an allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second decisions about the amount of force necessary in a particular situation.” This standard allows officers to detain individuals for nothing more than a behavior that an officer might consider unusual. These perceptions may be based on ablest, racist, misogynistic, homophobic, classist or otherwise discriminatory leanings — even if no crime has been accused or committed.
Civil Rights Act of 1964: Pattern and Practice
In 1964, new federal legislation was passed in direct relation to public outrage ignited by publicized police brutality. Images of officers using police dogs, batons, hoses and other forms of police violence used against men, women, and children marching for civil rights in Birmingham, Alabama forced the federal government to respond to the pressure to end segregation and discrimination by pushing through the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This Act contained elements designed to alleviate concerns about abuses by law enforcement by superficially outlawing patterns and practice of discrimination, but much like the weaknesses written into the Civil Rights Act of 1866, only the United States Attorney General can file charges. Also like its legislative predecessor, once charges are brought, it has proven to be very difficult to secure a conviction. If a rare conviction does occur extremely weak consequences are issued. In most cases, the Attorney General makes suggestions for shifts in police department policy or oversees the implementation of minimal adjustments. As a result, victims have very little power to trigger federal charges and institute significant reforms to departments that continually strip them and their communities from their rights and their lives under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. SIIP supports efforts to:
Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (42 USC 14141)
The VCCLEA authorizes the attorney general to bring civil action against state and local law enforcement agencies for “pattern and practice” of misconduct, but following the same pattern of prior legislation, the policy only authorizes the Attorney General to file charges and does not give individuals or lower levels of government the power to trigger federal protections. This law also requires that data be collected on excessive force cases; however, this portion of the act was not funded properly, nor has it been protected from formal opposition by law enforcement organizations such as the Fraternal Order of Police. It does succeed, though, in furthering the rights of law enforcement to unfairly target, incarcerate and brutalize minority communities.
The VCCLEA “provided funding for tens of thousands of community police officers and drug courts, banned certain assault weapons, and mandated life sentences for criminals convicted of a violent felony after two or more prior convictions, including drug crimes. The mandated life sentences were known as the ‘three-strikes’ provision.” It has been lauded as a complete failure by President Clinton himself, who signed the law into effect, and contributed to an explosion of incarceration rates especially among people of color, people with disabilities and people of color with disabilities.
Update Requirements to Operate
Modernized and Reorganize
Filing a Report
Ban Internal Investigations
Eliminate Police Unions
Create Civilian Review Boards
-> Close Legal Loopholes
Modernize Data Collection