The recent weeks of protests have seriously shifted U.S. voters’ attitudes toward Black Lives Matter—and also toward the police. New polling from Data for Progress finds that trust in police has dropped rapidly in response to recent events, particularly among younger voters. “Police officers generally cannot be trusted,” 59% of voters between 18 and 29 said, and voters overall said by a 21-point margin that recent events had made them less likely to trust the police.
That’s not the only interesting part of the polling. Data for Progress also finds support for ending one of the policies that has given police the license to abuse their power and brutalize too many people: qualified immunity.
The doctrine of qualified immunity, established by the Supreme Court in 1967 and dramatically expanded since, protects government officials, including police, from lawsuits over abuses they commit in their official capacities.
“Qualified immunity permits law enforcement and other government officials to violate people’s constitutional rights with virtual impunity,” Amir Ali and Emily Clark wrote at The Appeal last year, because after prosecutors refuse to prosecute, as they often do, or juries fail to convict, as they often do, “Qualified immunity takes away the other avenue that victims of police violence should have available to hold police accountable.”
This holds true in egregious cases like one in which a group of Seattle police debated among themselves where to tase a woman who refused to sign a speeding ticket, then tased her three times—while she was seven months pregnant. When she sued, “Six federal judges agreed that the officers’ use of severe force absent any threat to their safety violated the U.S. Constitution. But those same judges dismissed her case” because of qualified immunity.
Qualified immunity has to go, because it tells police officers they can harm people, abuse the public trust, and abuse power without fear of repercussions. So it’s excellent news that Data for Progress finds plurality support for ending qualified immunity: 45% support ending it and 35% oppose.
That’s among voters overall. Among younger voters, there’s majority support for ending it. Not just the youngest voters, either. Fifty-five percent of voters 18 to 29 say end qualified immunity. The number is even stronger among voters 30 to 39, at 61%. Even 51% of voters 40 to 49 want to end qualified immunity.
Congressional Democrats included a provision eliminating qualified immunity in their Justice in Policing Act of 2020, with Sen. Cory Booker telling NPR that “when it’s so clear that an officer has violated community standards, department standards and the civil rights of Americans, that they should be open to civil action.” Many voters agree.