Burlington, VT — Some Vermont lawmakers and activists are examining what they call an archaic policy known as Qualified Immunity, which works to protect police officers accused of violating one’s constitutional rights.
On Wednesday, they met outside Ben & Jerry’s with the founders themselves to say it’s well past time to end this.
“It doesn’t make any sense to anybody to be immune to the law, especially the law,” said Rev. Mark Hughes, the Director of the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance.
Rev. Hughes says the idea of qualified immunity began in 1961, which in some cases has shielded police from liability and victims of police brutality from seeking justice.
Senator Kesha Ram Hinsdale shared how qualified immunity played a role in her life.
“I was 13 years old when I was arrested by the LAPD with a friend of mine who is also brown. We were a block away from her house getting something she needed from the store at about 9:30 at night. And two officers pulled up and they asked us are you, Mexican? Are you sure you’re not Mexican?”
Ram Hinsdale said she was taken to the station, handcuffed to a bench, and not read her rights. The officers were not held accountable.
“Officers of the law have the right and ability to detain people, to pull a gun on people, to take away their civil liberties, and in some cases their life – need more accountability, not less than every other job in America.”
Bill S.254 works to end qualified immunity in Vermont, but it’s been a slow process, despite hundreds of thousands of Vermonters being in favor of overturning this protection.
“75 percent of Vermonters believe police officers should not be immune from prosecution,” said Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s. “But our system of representative government is failing us.”
Cohen says a committee of only five people is keeping Bill S.254 from passing. Some say the state isn’t holding up to a promise they made after George Floyd’s death.
“The urgency, the cries, and the fear are not felt anymore, and so it’s easy to go back to what is comfortable, instead of what is right,” said Kiah Morris, Executive Director of Rights & Democracy.