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'Black people terrified of US cops who can shoot & walk free under qualified immunity'

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Black Lives Matter protesters rally at Westlake Park before marching through the downtown area on June 14, 2020 in Seattle, United States. (Photo by AFP)

The black community in the US lives in perpetual fear of trigger-happy officers, who as a matter of course avoid responsibility for misconduct, activists say, and insist that real change can only be brought by action, not words and retweets.

“We keep hearing about how difficult the jobs of the officers are, but we don’t hear enough about how scared black people are right now... What’s getting lost in all this is the fact people are hurting right now,” community advocate Dontaye Carter told RT on Monday.

“I don’t condone these riots, I don’t condone these acts, but the reality is there’s a lot of pain,” he said. “You’re seeing the fire that’s been in the hearts of so many people in the black community. They’re angry about what’s going on.”

Another activist, Ife Folami, accused Atlanta police of failing to “defuse” the situation which spiraled out of control and led to the shooting of Rayshard Brooks, 27, on Friday night.

Multiple videos provide a timeline of events which led to the death of Rayshard Brooks, beginning with the officers questioning him in a Wendy’s parking lot, and ending with fatal gunshots as he tried to flee after grabbing an officer’s taser.

People are scared to death of the police. I don’t have to know him to know that he feared for his life. He feared dying at the hands of police. And, unfortunately, that is what happened.

Public consternation over US police brutality is compounded by frustration, because the “change is taking too long to come,” Folami said. Carter also believes that the situation will not improve “until they start talking about the root issues, and not just talking... but implementing change.”

The raging debate over the limits of police use of deadly force in the US, as well as its ramifications, has been reignited following the latest incident.

Atlanta officer Garrett Rolfe was promptly fired, while his partner, Devin Bronsan, was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation. Police Chief Erika Shields resigned, saying that it is time to build trust between police and the community.

Attorney and vice president of Atlanta’s chapter of NAACP, Gerald Griggs, who insists that “you cannot use lethal force in a response to non-lethal force,” expressed confidence that Rolfe and Bronsan will be charged with murder.

However, as long as the concept of ‘qualified immunity’ exists, there is always a loophole to avoid responsibility by arguing that violations were committed in “good faith” and with “probable cause,” believes Carter.

Qualified immunity is a legal doctrine in United States federal law which shields government officials from being held personally liable for discretionary actions performed within their official capacity, unless their actions violate "clearly established" federal law, even if their victim's civil rights were violated.

The police are immune from allegations of negligence arising from their investigation and suppression of crime. This basically means that victims of brutality or harassment by law enforcement generally get no relief in court and have no ability to hold offending officers accountable for their actions

We’ve got to take a hard look at this qualified immunity, because I think it’s also time… police feel the weight of the consequences when they go to pull that trigger.

“You take away qualified immunity and guess what? It’s a whole lot easier for them to stand before a jury of their peers,” Carter added. “There’s nothing that will straighten out a bad apple or a bad organization better than accountability, transparency, and justice, and that’s where we need to get to.” 

Brooks was shot at the anti-racist and police brutality protests in the US and overseas, sparked by the death of another black man, George Floyd, in Minnesota last month.

Floyd, who was unarmed, died during a botched chokehold arrest attempt by a white officer. While most of the rallies and marches were peaceful, on multiple occasions they escalated into rioting, arson, looting and clashes with police all across the US. 

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