#NJRR Live: Qualified Immunity and Police Accountability

Welcome to this week’s episode of #NJRR Live! 

4/20 was yesterday and Brian recalls his experience attending a statehouse rally in New Jersey. He made a few people’s days by giving them free weed. While he was there, Brian witnessed firsthand the disparity between the types of products that potheads want, what patients want, and what corporate cannabis wants.

Brian is concerned that corporate cannabis has a monopoly on how the legal weed market is developing. There are restrictive laws or rules on almost all aspects of cannabis, from black market activity to naming conventions to growing permits. What cannabis consumers want is     good, cheap weed. Many pot smokers just want to grow their own plants, but corporate cannabis and legislators have fallen deaf to requests because they prioritize their own profits.

Belisha Beacon Reviews Nomad Land

Familiar comrade and Editorial Board member Belisha Beacon is here to review the movie Nomad Land. Nomad Land has won Best Picture at the Oscars this year and boasts a 94% on Rotten Tomatoes. The movie is based on a book of the same title. Nomad Land offers an indirect critique of Amazon through the perspective of a nomadic protagonist. Belisha points out that the movie does not spend as much time being critical of Amazon as the book did. Brian watched the movie as well. He comments that the writing and the characters could have been improved upon, but the film still had a lot going for it, for example, a well-crafted anti-capitalist message.

Not enough people realize that this country has little going for it in the way of workers’ rights. Especially with the recent union controversy that has been happening with Amazon, Belisha’s pick for this movie review was timely. Belisha predicts that the movie might spark a new film genre that features fragmented storytelling through the use of interchanged documentary and fiction. 

Both of our guests tonight are Editorial Board members! You can join our Editorial Board as well on our website!

[#NJRR Live April 21, 2021 with Brian Powers, Bennet Zurofsky, and Belisha Beacon]

#NJRR Live Welcomes Bennet D Zurofsky

We welcome tonight’s second special guest, Bennet D. Zurofsky. Bennet is an attorney at law from Montclair, New Jersey. We brought Bennet in today to discuss something he is well qualified to tell us about. Qualified immunity is a doctrine invented by the United States Supreme Court in interpreting the main Civil Rights Enforcement Statute (Section 19-83). It is important to understand that qualified immunity is not an interpretation of the Constitution, but of a statute.

What Is Qualified Immunity?

What the Supreme Court has invented with the qualified immunity doctrine is a statute which can be altered by Congress, state legislatures, and to some extent even by municipal legislatures. The idea for what became qualified immunity came about because of a debate about situations in which officers of the law are unable to situationally determine whether their acts violate the Constitution. Qualified immunity is a way to avoid liability for police action in civil cases. As such, through qualified immunity, even bad faith conduct might be protected.

The law has become such that you cannot sue for police misconduct unless you can establish that the officer in question was violating clearly established constitutional doctrine. At face value, to someone untrained in law, this might sound halfway decent. However, lawyers will argue for hours over whether almost any part of the Constitution is clearly established. Additionally, the US court system is biased towards police to begin with.

Police Accountability

How can we hold police more accountable? How can we get rid of qualified immunity? Bennet says that one way to do so would be if legislators passed laws to remove qualified immunity. It’s a simple solution; it makes sense—and people realize it. In New Jersey, we are seeing reforms. Municipalities need to keep consistently pushing for direct police accountability with civilian review boards.

There will be opposition to further reform, there is no doubt. Police unions tend to be strong and powerful. However, as Bennet points out, there has been a true power shift, as well as erosion and change when it comes to police forces, in the past year. It should not have taken copious death and sustained human suffering to get here, yet this is where we are. We need to keep the momentum. Keeping pressure on the system is the only way to ensure change.

Bennet leaves the audience with these words: celebrate the victories we’ve seen and keep pushing for more, because this is a long fight and we are far from being done. Thank you for being here with us this week. We’ll see you with our regular productions next week!

-Leah Giannantonio, for the Revolution Radio Network

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