Harris to introduce legislation ending law enforcement qualified immunity

PHILADELPHIA, June 11 – Citing the disproportionate damage being done to minority communities in Pennsylvania by excessive use of force, state Rep. Jordan Harris, D-Phila., House Democratic Whip, will soon be introducing the Ending Immunity for Excessive Use of Force Act that would eliminate blanket qualified immunity for the use of unjustified or excessive force that results in serious bodily injury or death.

“The death of George Floyd may have been the catalyst for the current push for police reform, but the underlying issues have existed for centuries,” Harris said. “There can’t be accountability for the behavior of law enforcement officers when they know they have immunity that shields them from repercussions for their actions. This prevents bad actors from being held accountable and leads to systemic abuse, which unevenly impacts black and brown communities in Pennsylvania.”

Qualified immunity is the judicially created doctrine that prevents government officials, such as law enforcement, from being held personally liable for breaking the law. Harris’ legislation ties in with H.B. 1664, legislation introduced by state Rep. Summer Lee, D-Allegheny, aimed at eliminating effectuating an arrest as justification for the use of deadly force.

“As my community knows all too well, it can be hard, if not impossible, to hold individuals accountable for their excessive use of force. While we work to introduce and enact reforms on how and when the use of force is applied, we must also provide communities and families the ability to seek justice when they have been wronged,” Lee said. “Power without accountability is a dangerous recipe, and one that has produced a bitter dish for communities across our state and nation. As the people of our communities cry out, we must take action to create the change they are clamoring for.”

This legislation is part of the police reform package spearheaded by state and local elected officials, as well as the Philadelphia Public Defenders Office and local attorneys, to improve the way law enforcement interacts with the communities they serve by increasing transparency and accountability.

Around the nation, voices are calling out for an end to qualified immunity. At the federal level, Reps. Ayanna Pressley, D-MA, and Justin Amash, L-MI, have introduced bipartisan legislation to end qualified immunity. In addition, over 1,000 current and former professional athletes signed a letter to Congress calling for an end to qualified immunity to help hold law enforcement accountable for their actions.