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Pressley, Markey Push To End 'Qualified Immunity' For Police

This week the nation’s fever turned to a boiling point as anxieties about COVID-19 and the economy were overtaken by calls for justice after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. In Washington, lawmakers juggled the response to both crises.

Pressley, Markey Lead Push To Nix Qualified Immunity For Police

Protesters coming down Beacon Street on Tuesday find the road blocked by bicycle police . (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Protesters coming down Beacon Street on Tuesday find the road blocked by bicycle police . (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Rep. Ayanna Pressley and Sen. Ed Markey are leading a bicameral push to end qualified immunity for law enforcement officers — the legal doctrine that shields public officials from personal liability for acts committed in the line of duty.

“Qualified immunity shields police from accountability, impedes true justice, and undermines the constitutional rights of every person in this country,” Pressley tweeted on Wednesday. She is leading the push in the House with Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, who left the Republican Party in 2019 and joined the Libertarian Party in April 2020.

Markey announced the Senate bill yesterday with Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins and former Boston NAACP President Michael Curry.

“We have a justice system that makes these sorts of murders at the hands of police a far too frequent occasion,” Markey said. “The law makes it almost impossible for these victims of excessive force by a police officer to hold an officer accountable in a court of law, and that must end.” Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey are Senate co-sponsors.

Cicilline Seeks Probe Of Barr’s Role In Use Of Force Against Protesters

Attorney General William Barr, left, walks in Lafayette Park as demonstrators gather to protest the death of George Floyd near the White House on Monday. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Attorney General William Barr, left, walks in Lafayette Park as demonstrators gather to protest the death of George Floyd near the White House on Monday. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island yesterday called for a special prosecutor to investigate the role Attorney General William Barr played in the decision to forcibly clear a peaceful crowd of protesters from outside the White House on Monday. Mounted U.S. Park Police fired rubber bullets and chemical agents to disperse the demonstrators.

As the incident unfolded, President Trump delivered a brief speech in which he declared himself “your president of law and order” and threatened to send active-duty military troops to cities around the country to quell the ongoing unrest.

Cicilline cited a Washington Post report that Barr ordered the use of federal law enforcement to remove the protesters from Lafayette Square so Trump could walk over to recently-vandalized St. John’s Church to pose for a photo opportunity.

“Given the issues at stake, and your evident role in suppressing the right of the American people to redress their grievances, it is clear that a special prosecutor must be appointed to investigate your actions and the actions of all executive branch officials involved in this action,” Cicilline wrote in a letter to Barr.

Kennedy Files Bill To Overhaul Nursing Home Safety, Oversight

Rep. Joe Kennedy III filed legislation aimed at preventing infections like the coronavirus from overwhelming seniors and soldiers’ homes in the future.

Kennedy notes that nearly two-thirds of deaths related to COVID-19 in Massachusetts have occurred in long-term care facilities. The state-run Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke for veterans is the site of one of the nation’s deadliest outbreaks.

“Tens of thousands of seniors and veterans have died in this country in recent weeks because our nation failed to keep them safe in the midst of a pandemic,” Kennedy said in a statement. “People who built this country into what it is today were helpless as an infectious disease swept through overwhelmed, underfunded homes.”

The bill would expand the availability of Medicaid reimbursements for nursing homes and care facilities, reform workforce requirements, boost infection control procedures and require demographic data collection and reporting. Additionally, the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke would be required to create an outside governing body to which the facility’s administrator would report.

3 More Things:

McGovern calls to end shipments of military equipment to local police: Rep. Jim McGovern has co-sponsored an amendment to the Defense Department funding bill that would end a program which allows the donation of surplus military-grade equipment to local police departments. “There is no one answer to the pain & anguish our country feels right now. But police militarization must be addressed,” McGovern tweeted on Wednesday.

Markey, Neal push for ‘Brain Train’ to western Mass.: The $25 billion plan, sponsored by Markey in the Senate and Rep. Richard Neal in the House, would invest in high-performance passenger rail service that would connect communities within Massachusetts and across the country — particularly those underserved in the western part of the state.

Trump beats Weld, again: Former Gov. Bill Weld may have suspended his bid to unseat Trump in the Republican presidential primary back in March, but his name still appears on the ballot in primaries. On Tuesday, Trump easily routed Weld in Maryland, earning 88% of the Republican primary vote and all of the state’s 38 delegates. To his credit, Weld still drew 11% of the vote.


WHAT I'M READING

  • Measuring Deprivation: The Grim Racial Inequalities Behind America’s Protests(The Economist)

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

"From the news clips I have seen, the protesters across from the White House were orderly and nonviolent. They should not have been removed by force and without warning, particularly when the apparent purpose was to stage a photo op."

-- former Massachusetts governor and current U.S. Senator from Utah Mitt Romney, in a Salt Lake Tribune interview yesterday.


PARTING NOTE

The killing of George Floyd and others, as well as the racial disparities highlighted in the partial data showing COVID-19’s outsized impact on African American communities, has made the last few months feel overwhelming to many of us.

As we continue to absorb this one-two punch dealt to our nation — particularly to black and brown America — I will be moderating two WBUR town halls to help make sense of it all.

Tonight at 6 p.m. we will discuss race, justice, police practices and a nation in pain, with Monica Cannon-Grant, founder of Violence In Boston, Rev. Willie Bodrick II, associate pastor at the Historic Twelfth Baptist Church and former Gov. Deval Patrick.
Register here.

On Tuesday, we will discuss the racial inequities revealed and exacerbated by COVID-19 with Rep. Ayanna Pressley, Dr. Paula Johnson, physician and president of Wellesley College, Dr. Mary T. Bassett, director of the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights and professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Register here.

I hope you will join us.

Correction: An earlier version of this post stated that Justin Amash is an independent. Amash is in fact a member of the Libertarian Party. The story has been updated. We regret the error.

Kimberly Atkins Twitter Senior News Correspondent
Kimberly Atkins is a senior news correspondent for WBUR, covering national political news from Washington, D.C., with a New England focus.

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