The Players Coalition has gathered the signatures of more than 1,400 current and retired athletes, coaches, general managers and staff members from the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball for a letter to the United States Congress supporting a bill to end qualified immunity, which makes it difficult to sue police officers for brutality.
U.S. Reps. Justin Amash, L-Mich., and Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., introduced the bill Thursday, seeking to eliminate the doctrine of qualified immunity and give Americans a better chance to hold police and other public officials accountable in court when the citizens believe their constitutional rights are violated.
Amash and Pressley introduced the bill in response to the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by police.
The letter is the latest action taken by the Players Coalition to call for an end to police brutality and social injustice in the United States. On May 8, the coalition sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General William Barr and FBI Director Christopher Wray calling for a federal investigation into the February shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia.
Now the coalition is asking Congress to pass a bill that would make police more accountable for their actions.
“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,” the Players Coalition wrote in its letter to Congress. “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.”
Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act of 1871 gives individuals the right to sue state and municipal government officials, including police officers, if their rights were violated. That section of the act, the bill states, “never included a defense or immunity for government officials who act in good faith when violating rights, nor has it ever had a defense or immunity based on whether the right was ‘clearly established’ at the time of the violation.” From 1871 until the 1960s, the notion of qualified immunity was not granted for the violation of rights.
According to the bill, the 1967 Supreme Court case Pierson v. Ray started offering ways to protect government officials, including police officers, from being sued in civil court, and a 1982 ruling created the “clearly established” doctrine of qualified immunity. Often, that doctrine has been used as a way to grant officers immunity from civil suits.
The Amash-Pressley bill — along with a June 3 Senate resolution presented by Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.; Edward Markey, D-Mass.; and Cory Booker, D-N.J., asked for the end of qualified immunity.
“It is time for Congress to eliminate qualified immunity and it can do so by passing the Amash-Pressley Bill,” the letter to Congress reads. “When police officers kill an unarmed man, when they beat a woman, or when they shoot a child, the people of this country must have a way to hold them accountable in a court of law.
“And officers must know that if they act in such a manner, there will be repercussions. A legal system that does not provide such a recourse is an illegitimate one. In their grief, people have taken to the streets because for too long, their government has failed to protect them. The Courts and elected officials alike have instead shielded people who caused unspeakable harm. Congress must not be complicit in these injustices, and it should take this important step to show that law enforcement abuse will not be tolerated.”
A league source told ESPN’s Dianna Russini that the Players Coalition also has invited all 32 NFL teams to a virtual meeting at 5 p.m. ET Wednesday. The meeting, which is invite-only and closed to media, will focus on how the league can pursue and continue various initiatives aimed at promoting social justice and assisting black communities, the source told Russini.