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GOP’s Back the Blue Act Makes Suing the Police Virtually Impossible

— May 26, 2017

Republicans in the House and Senate have introduced identical bills, both entitled the Back the Blue Act of 2017.

Under the guise of protecting law enforcement officers from assault and any variety of criminal mischief and mayhem, the implications of Back the Blue are severe.

If the Act passes as proposed, killing or conspiring to kill a police officer or sheriff would become a federal crime. The Trump administration and Justice Department would, in effect, be allowed to appoint a district attorney to oversee the prosecution of what would formerly have been matters of the state.

While there are few who would argue that cop-killers should be able to escape justice, Back the Blue includes a similar caveat for persons charged with assault.

Legislators said demarcation as a federal crime would only occur if the law enforcement officer victimized were a member of a department which receives money from the federal government.

However, nearly every law enforcement agency in the country – whether a sheriff’s department or local five-car police squad – receives at least a small amount of federal funding.

If found guilty, offenders would face mandatory penalties in federal prison. Assaults resulting in bodily harm would be punished by between two and ten years in prison, plus an additional twenty if a dangerous weapon was used.

NYPD at Omar Edwards funeral; image by Red Carlisle, via Flickr, CC BY 2.0, no changes.
NYPD at Omar Edwards funeral; image by Red Carlisle, via Flickr, CC BY 2.0, no changes.

‘Assaults’ not resulting in any injury to the officer would carry a minimum penalty of a year in prison.

In an investigative and opinion piece in The Washington Post, Radley Balko observes the irony of a Republican Party which insists on wriggling the involvement of the federal government into state’s judiciaries.

If Back the Blue Passes, it would let the GOP and pro-police prosecutors wrangle a hold over high-profile court cases.

Prosecutors trying to reform corrupt or abusive law enforcement departments could face pressure from federal officials who feel they’re not taking a harsh stance on crime.

On top of the federal hijacking of state and county courtrooms, Back the Blue would make filing lawsuits against law enforcement agencies virtually impossible.

Balko, of the Washington Post, notes that ‘police officers are already protected by qualified immunity,’ meaning that individuals seeking to sue law enforcement agencies in court are required to show both that their rights were violated during an arrest and that a reasonable police officer would have known they were breaking the law.

Under Back the Blue, if a victim of police abuse or an unwarranted arrest committed any sort of felony or ‘crime of violence’ tangentially related to their detainment, law enforcement departments would only be responsible for paying out-of-pocket expenses rather than damages.

The example Balko gives is that of a hypothetical wrongful raid: if the police raid your house for drugs in the middle of the night and mistakenly ‘shoot you dead,’ they’d be on the hook for nothing more than the costs of a funeral if it could be established that you had ever sold pot or once possessed enough to constitute a felony.


A new GOP bill would make it virtually impossible to sue the police

S.3184 – Back the Blue Act of 2016

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