Tag Archives: George Floyd

The Empire Strikes Back on Qualified Immunity

It appears that there will be a push in the state Legislature to end qualified immunity for police officers. Qualified immunity makes it almost impossible to sue officers for use of excessive force; it’s become a target for reformers in the post-George Floyd era of, well, at least talking about police accountability.

It has the support of Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Sears, the single most influential gatekeeper on justice-related legislation. Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint is also signed on, another big positive.

Michael Schirling, on the other hand, is here to tell you it’ll happen over his dead body.

At the Tuesday Covid briefing, Gov. Phil Scott fielded a question about ending QI by immediately tossing it to Schirling, his public safety commissioner and former chief of police in Burlington.

Schirling, speaking on behalf of the administration, made his position quite clear.

“We are gravely concerned about the impact of that potential legislation, and we’re working with a variety of partners and stakeholders to craft a cogent and comprehensive assessment for the Legislature of the potential impacts and downsides of proceeding in that fashion.”

You don’t usually get an administration official cranking it all the way up to “gravely concerned” at this point in the session. It’s usually something milder, like “we have concerns, but we’ll see where it goes.” In this case, Darth Schirling has been sent forth by Emperor Philpatine to make sure the bill never sees the light of day.

Continue reading

When Pigs Fly

In the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the wave of ensuing protests, Vermont’s political leadership is united in calling for criminal justice reform.

They are also united in minimizing expectations for actual, y’know, results.

This shouldn’t be surprising. Law enforcement has always gotten a full, respectful, sometimes dreamy-eyed reception in legislative committees. Police chiefs, sheriffs and state’s attorneys always wield strong influence when it comes to any issue that touches on their work, from criminal justice to substance abuse to cannabis to the deadly perils of Happy Hour.

(This post concerns our top Democratic and Progressive leaders, not Republican Gov. Phil Scott. He has made all the right noises, and I’m sure he will endorse modest reforms. But the expectations ought to be higher for the D’s and P’s.)

No surprise then, that Dem/Prog Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe and Dem House Speaker Mitzi Johnson have already put the kibosh on any talk of cutting the Vermont State Police budget. Ashe, who believes it’s time for him to move up the ladder to the lieutenant governorship, offered this in lieu of leadership: “It’s one thing to say that, to communicate as part of this national discussion, but how you actually implement such a proposal is not a one size fits all.”

Spoken like a politician fleeing a hot-button issue.

Johnson asserted that Vermont has “a very different law enforcement structure than a lot of other states,” so those notorious one-size-fits-all solutions just won’t work here.

Well, I’d like to know more about how Vermont’s structure of state police, county sheriffs and municipal police departments, whose officers are armed with lethal weapons and who are primarily responsible for responding to a variety of public safety situations, is so dramatically different from the police structure elsewhere.

And whose officers have a track record of disproportionately stopping or arresting people of color and of using deadly force in dealing with the mentally ill.

Eh, I don’t think out “structure” is so different. Johnson is simply making another meaningless callout to Vermont exceptionalism.

As for Attorney General T.J. Donovan, he has tweeted that America’s criminal justice system is “broken,” and the time to fix it is “now.” But his proposed fixes are from the lipstick-on-a-pig bargain bin.

Continue reading

Trump Has Broken the Police (Updated)

Since the death of George Floyd, we’ve seen police officers do a whole lot of bad stuff. I mean sure, most police are good people etc., etc. But there’s too much shit going on to blame it on a few bad apples.

We’ve seen unreasonably aggressive force used on peaceful protesters — and on people who just happened to be in the way. We’ve seen people chosen, seemingly at random, for beatings and arrests. We’ve seen excessive use of tear gas, flash grenades, rubber bullets and other instruments of “humane” policing. We’ve seen police vehicles drive through protesters. We’ve seen numerous officers stand idly by while their colleagues engage in needless violence. We’ve seen police destroy water supplies and first-aid stands. We’ve seen loads of instances of police attacking journalists who had identified themselves and were carrying proper credentials.

And we’ve seen police committing vandalism to private property and even to their own vehicles, apparently to justify attacking and arresting peaceful demonstrators.

They’re acting with impunity, with no apparent fear of punishment, dismissal, or shaming. Hell, they arrested a CNN reporter and his crew during a live television broadcast.

They’re acting like Proud Boys with badges. Take this Orange County sheriff’s deputy (please, take him) who thought it was a dandy idea to report for protest duty wearing paramilitary patches right next to his actual badge.

OK, so America has been dealing with a sometimes-toxic culture of policing for a long time. But there’s something different about the ubiquity and shamelessness of police misconduct during the George Floyd protests.

And I think it’s Donald Trump.

Throughout his presidency, he’s been normalizing — nay, celebrating — behavior that is widely considered aberrant. He’s talked of beating up demonstrators, reporters, “not being too nice” with suspects. He has encouraged all the forms of police misbehavior that have been on broad display these past several days.

Continue reading