Colossal Failure: Qualified Immunity Commission

Police Accountability, Racial Justice


Lawyers for Civil Rights condemns in the strongest possible terms the shameful outcome of the Special Commission to Investigate and Study the Impact of the Qualified Immunity Doctrine, created by the Massachusetts State Legislature in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. The commission was charged with tackling “qualified immunity,” a legal doctrine that has consistently created barriers to justice and accountability for police misconduct and violence. As the commission reported yesterday: “The Commission was unable to reach a consensus about whether to end qualified immunity, amend the qualified immunity standard, or leave the qualified immunity standard as it exists today.”

After meeting for months, the inability to reach consensus on the urgent need for reform represents a colossal failure. This is a miscarriage of justice.  

At Lawyers for Civil Rights, in close alignment with the communities of color that we represent, we have consistently urged reform. But reform is strongly opposed by those who believe that “progressive” Massachusetts is immune from racism and discrimination. Nothing could be more preposterous or ludicrous. Yet, in Massachusetts, this sentiment is prevalent and cuts across party lines. In the commission, it inhibited, impeded, and obstructed progress. 

The commission’s reform efforts were also doomed to fail because its composition was deeply problematic. It failed to meaningfully reflect the people of color who are disproportionately and imminently at risk of police violence. From the start, the right people were never at the table. As the outcome reflects, the commission was a charade and a façade.

The commission’s failure must also be contextualized against the backdrop of the recent egregious decision from Massachusetts’ highest court in Commonwealth v. Sweeting-Bailey, No. SJC-13086 (Dec. 22, 2021), a case where the Supreme Judicial Court backed police who frisked a Black man under questionable circumstances opening the door to even more racial profiling. 

The commission’s failure — coupled with the high court’s unfavorable precedent — emboldens police misconduct in Massachusetts, even after George Floyd’s murder and Terrence Coleman’s fatal police encounter in Boston

“Let’s be clear: It is absurd to suggest that more data is needed to assess the impact of qualified immunity. We need reform now. We can’t sit around waiting for more years while our communities suffer. Justice delayed is justice denied. We don’t need more data when we already know the impact: ravaged Black and Brown bodies on our streets. It’s George Floyd. It’s Terrence Coleman. Just ask Terrence’s mother, Hope Coleman, who has been waiting for years for justice for her son in Boston. If qualified immunity reform efforts are foreclosed, we should stop at nothing short of abolition,” said Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, Executive Director of Lawyers for Civil Rights. Attorney Espinoza-Madrigal served as the Designee of the NAACP New England Area Conference on the Qualified Immunity Commission. 

As the state fails to protect Black people and other stigmatized communities, Lawyers for Civil Rights reaffirms its unequivocal commitment to Black Lives Matter. Lawyers for Civil Rights will redouble its efforts and fight tirelessly to protect people of color and immigrants. 

LCR’s amicus brief in Commonwealth v. Sweeting-Bailey, No. SJC-13086 (Dec. 22, 2021) is available here.

The commission’s report is available here. Click here to download the report.