The tragic murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Marcus-David Peters, and the recent protests across the country, show there is an urgent need for fundamental change in policing. We must reimagine and transform the role of police in our society and invest in prevention over punishment.
We must start to dismantle anti-Black racism in policing by holding law enforcement officers, and the departments that employ them, accountable for harm caused by their unconstitutional conduct. TAKE ACTION
Black and Brown people in Virginia continue to suffer injuries and die at the hands of police, yet police escape punishment for their misconduct.
Virginians deserve better. We need a system that holds law enforcement officers accountable for misconduct on the job. If an officer is fired or resigns because of misconduct, they should not be allowed to continue to be a police officer in Virginia. People who are harmed by the unconstitutional actions of law enforcement officers should have the authority to bring a lawsuit to be compensated by the officers and their departments for the harm they suffered.
Now is the time for change. Virginia lawmakers are going to meet on Aug. 18 for a special legislative session to discuss changes to Virginia laws that may move us towards ending racism in policing. The ACLU of Virginia will focus our advocacy efforts on the following issues:
1. Break the Cycle of Rehiring
The problem: In Virginia, there are only a handful of ways for a police officer to lose their state certificate, which gives them a “license” to work in law enforcement. They have to be charged and convicted of a felony or certain misdemeanors, fail a drug test, or fail to do their mandatory training. We need statewide standards that allow a license to police to be suspended or revoked for misconduct on the job, whether criminal or not.
Our lax police licensing law means there is no real accountability for officers who engage in excessive use of force or unethical conduct. You should not have to be a criminal to lose your license to police people in Virginia.
Officers can be fired or asked to resign for a variety of reasons like any other profession, but that is only a temporary way of removing a bad cop from the street. These rogue officers are too often hired by another police department
The solution: We need to break the cycle of firing and rehiring officers.
Teachers, barbers, lawyers and doctors all risk losing their ability to practice for serious misconduct. The same should be true for police. Nationwide, about 30,000 cops have been decertified and are no longer able to get a job in law enforcement. Virginia has contributed only 33 officers to that list – less than 1%.
Unlike other state licensed professions, there are no statewide standards of conduct that apply to all licensed police. Each police and sheriff’s department sets their own rules of conduct which vary widely. We need strong, uniform statewide conduct standards that apply to all police and protect all communities.
2. Allow People to Sue Police
The problem: If you’re hurt or killed by a police officer who has used excessive force in violation of the federal constitution, current law, known as “qualified immunity,” limits the likelihood that you or your family can recover money damages for the harm caused by a police officer. Qualified immunity gives law enforcement officers a shield from ever being held accountable in federal court to pay for the harm caused by their unconstitutional conduct.
The solution: We must pass a law that will create a way for people in Virginia to sue police for the harms caused by police violence.
The law must make clear that “qualified immunity” is not a defense to these state lawsuits, so police no longer have this legal shield to hide behind. Virginia law should authorize people in Virginia to bring lawsuits in state court to recover damages when they’re hurt by police violence. Real harm done to an individual deserves real compensation.
Enough is enough. Too many Black and Brown lives have been lost to police violence. Black and Brown communities have been devastated for decades by over-policing and mass incarceration, as well as the economic, social, and human costs that come with them.
We can no longer be silent. Now more than ever, we must speak up and speak out. Here's how you can make your voices heard: Take action
To the Virginia House of Delegates:
- The House of Delegates will be holding three joint public hearings of the House Courts of Justice and Public Safety Committees on Police and Criminal Justice Reform as delegates prepare legislation for the upcoming special session starting on Aug. 18. Each hearing will cover an area of police and criminal legal reform, along with opportunities for the public to submit comments and testimonies.
- The hearings are held on:
- Wednesday, July 22, 2020. You can watch the archived video here.
- Wednesday, July 29, 2020. You can sign up to speak, submit comment, or watch it LIVE here.
- Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020. You can sign up to speak, submit comment, or watch it LIVE here.
To the Virginia Senate:
- The Virginia Senate held a joint committee hearing on Friday, July 10, to discuss their priorities for the special session. You can watch the archived video here.
- Public comment: The Senate is accepting public comments from now until July 31, 2020. Make sure to submit your testimony by the deadline by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
- Please note: Your comments to Virginia lawmakers may not be made public, but they may encourage others to take action and speak up for change. If you'd like to share your comments on our social media, please email us at email@example.com.