Jack Flaherty

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1,400 athletes sign letter demanding Congress end qualified immunity for law enforcement

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More than 1,400 current and former athletes, coaches and executives from major professional sports leagues — including several major league baseball players — have signed a letter to members of Congress in support of a bill that would eliminate qualified immunity for government officials, including law enforcement.

The letter was released by the Players Coalition, which is a group founded by NFL players in 2017 to address social justice and racial inequality. Among its signatories are ballplayers Giancarlo Stanton, Alex Bregman, CC Sabathia, Andrew McCutchen, Chris Archer, Jack Flaherty, Tim Anderson, Dexter Fowler, Delino DeShields Jr., Matt Kemp, Dee Gordon, J.P. Crawford, Cameron Maybin, Niko Goodrum, and Tony Gwynn Jr.

Qualified immunity is a judge-created legal doctrine that insulates public officials, most notably law enforcement, from lawsuits. The idea behind the doctrine was to protect police from frivolous lawsuits in response to cases which involve split-second judgments that are made in tense and dangerous situations. In practice, however, the doctrine has barred the vast majority of police brutality suits on questionable grounds, hollowing out 150-year-old civil rights legislation which gave individuals the right to sue state and municipal government officials if their rights were violated. Qualified immunity is under renewed scrutiny in the wake of the Breonna Taylor and George Floyd killings by police officers.

From the Players’ Coalition letter:

We are tired of conversations around police accountability that go nowhere, and we have engaged in too many ‘listening sessions,’ where we discuss whether there is a problem of police violence in this country. There is a problem. The world witnessed it when Officer [Derek] Chauvin murdered George Floyd, and the world is watching it now, as officers deploy enormous force on peaceful protestors like those who were standing outside of the White House last week. The time for debate about the unchecked authority of the police is over; it is now time for change.

The letter supports a bill introduced by U.S. Representatives Justin Amash (L-Michigan) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Massachusetts) last week which seeks to eliminate the doctrine of qualified immunity.