Ballplayers aren’t wild about qualified immunity, either

I am . . . a huge fan of getting rid of qualified immunity, and holding cops and everyone accountable, just like we hold ourselves.
—Lorenzo Cain.

Over two months ago, over 1,100 professional athletes and at least 300 front office workers in professional sports signed a letter from the Players Coalition. It expressed support for a Congressional bill to end qualified immunity for law enforcement personnel. No few incumbent and former baseball players signed the letter.

They only began with Tim Anderson, Chris Archer, Alex Bregman, Byron Buxton, Eric Davis, Jack Flaherty, Dexter Fowler, Jason Heyward, Jordan Hicks, Austin Jackson, CC Sabathia, Denard Span, and Giancarlo Stanton.

The Ending Qualified Immunity Act was introduced 4 June 2020 by Republican-turned-Libertarian Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan and Democratic Rep. Ayanna Pressley or Massachussetts. The Players Coalition letter appeared six days later. When Rep. Tom McClintock (R-California) signed on, the bill became the first tripartisan legislation in the history of Congress.

“[P]olice are legally, politically, and culturally insulated from consequences for violating the rights of the people whom they have sworn to serve,” Amash said after he and Pressley  introduced their bill. “That must change so that these incidents of brutality stop happening.”

Amash and Pressley wrote the bill specifically after George Floyd’s death at police hands, but it isn’t just non-white people who suffer or die at the hands of rogue police. It’s safe enough to presume that too many of those breaking entire cities over police atrocities care less about justice than about cover for their own destruction.

“Whatever his motive,” McClintock said announcing his co-sponsorship, “the killer of George Floyd had eighteen complaints for misconduct, and one of his accomplices had six. Why is such misconduct tolerated by big city police departments? Is it because the doctrine of qualified immunity shields corrupt officials from accountability for a wide range of crimes?”

Not long after that, the Supreme Court—which created qualified immunity in the first place in 1982—turned down seven cases in which it might have revisited the monster the Court itself created. Justice Clarence Thomas rejected that rejection. “There . . .  may be no justification,” he wrote in his dissent, “for a one-size-fits-all, subjective immunity based on good faith.”

Whether the end of qualified immunity would have prevented the Kenosha, Wisconsin police shooting of a suspect named Jacob Blake is your guess as well as mine. Rogue police have this much in common with the criminals they’re otherwise sworn to apprehend—they think the law doesn’t apply to them.

But absent qualified immunity at least the officer who pumped seven bullets into Blake’s back wouldn’t necessarily be protected from consequences above and beyond whatever a Kenosha police departmental investigation imposes upon him.

“[C]ivil society is impossible without a well‐​functioning criminal justice system,” wrote Clark Niely, vice president for criminal justice at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, a month before the Amash-Pressley bill emerged, explaining why Cato took qualified immunity on as a specific analytical subject within a subject.

But in order to be well‐​functioning, it is not enough that a criminal justice system have the power to arrest, prosecute, and punish wrongdoers. The system must also be perceived by citizens as fundamentally legitimate and thus genuinely worthy of their confidence and support . . . [I]t is difficult to imagine anything more delegitimizing than a law‐​enforcement community that insists upon being held to a vastly lower standard of accountability than the one it imposes on ordinary citizens. But that, unfortunately, is precisely what we have. Even more tragically, it is an unforced error caused by a misbegotten blunder into judicial policymaking by the Supreme Court.

“The fact we’re talking about this in 2020, I don’t see the progress in that,” says Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Lorenzo Cain to The Athletic. “It’s almost like we’re going backwards. I think we’re going to be in the same situation until we start holding the people doing this accountable. Until that changes, it’s going to be tough for real change.”

Cain opted out of playing this season over the coronavirus world tour after the truncated season began but over safety concerns on road trips. He also prefers quiet protests like postponing baseball games over breaking the neighbourhood. “It’s burning buildings. It’s people out there shooting each other,” he tells The Athletic‘s Andy McCullough. It’s chaos. It’s bad.” And he’s not going to let rogue police off the hook, either.

I just feel like the change we need, as far as the top of our government, all the police forces out there, I just feel like deadly force shouldn’t be the first thing we go to. They’ve got Tasers and every other weapon on their tool belts. And deadly force is always the go-to.

That’s why I am such a huge fan of getting rid of qualified immunity, and holding cops and everyone accountable, just like we hold ourselves. That’s what I’m all about, getting rid of that qualified immunity.

Cain doesn’t have to be told that police officers don’t always have time to think before they fire. But neither does he need to remind anyone with a brain that shooting a suspect with his back turned even while possibly reaching for a knife makes a cop a crook.

So does killing an unarmed suspect. So does performing a home invasion based on questionable evidence. So does sending the SWAT team to terrorise a family accused wrongly of growing marijuana where it’s still illegal. So does holding Grandma and her four-year-old granddaughter at gunpoint while executing a sloppy or out-dated warrant.

When the men and women sworn to uphold the law become the lawless themselves, be afraid. Be very afraid. And you don’t need baseball players taking knees or postponing games to tell you. Among those who would tell you, and just did, are this paternal grandson of a New York police officer, the only known cop in my family. I’ve said it until I’m blue in the face but I’ll say it again. He’d have been just as appalled by rogue cops as he was by rogue citizens.

Today is baseball’s delayed commemoration of Jackie Robinson, who once lamented that violent contingencies would hurt more than help his people and all people.

We’ll never know truly what the Hall of Famer today would think of Kenosha, Minneapolis, and other places where rogue police make themselves judges and juries on the scene, and rogue citizens use rogue police acts as beards to burn the innocent and claim justice. Based on his own record in and after baseball, Robinson would likely reject both.

“He does not want society to burn,” Roger Kahn wrote after spending long time with him for The Boys of Summer. “Burn America and you burn the achievements of Jackie Robinson. After ruinous, anarchic blaze, who will remember the brave, fatherless boyhood, the fight for an inch of Army justice, the courage in baseball, the leadership and the triumph of a free man who walked with swift and certain strides?”

Very likely, Robinson himself would support the end of qualified immunity. As Lorenzo Cain does today. As did the Andersons, Bregmans, Flahertys, and Heywards signing the letter supporting the Amash-Pressley bill. The bill was referred to the House Judiciary Committee when last seen. I hope it’s not the last we’ve seen of it.