The murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer was yet another tragic incident of police brutality against African Americans. Today, racial disparities pervade every aspect of law enforcement activity by police in Pittsburgh. In 2020, 3,883 Black men were arrested by the Pittsburgh police, while only 1,746 white men were arrested. It’s time for bold action to reform law enforcement.
Jerry will introduce federal legislation to make it a crime for law enforcement to “recklessly deprive” and “negligently deprive” a person of her constitutional rights. This would make it easier for the Department of Justice to ensure that police officers are prosecuted and convicted when they engage in conduct they know will cause or they reasonably can foresee causing physical harm or death. Likewise, as a constitutional law professor, Jerry will strongly advocate for the US Attorney’s office of the Western District of Pennsylvania to focus its investigative efforts on unconstitutional police practices in Black and Brown communities.
Currently, Jerry and his law students at the University of Pittsburgh are providing legal counsel to activist groups in Pittsburgh to create the nation’s first democratically-elected public body overseeing a police department. This unprecedented project will transform police accountability nationwide. As Congressman, Jerry plans to take this initiative to the next level by introducing legislation that would incentivize local governments with federal funding to form elected independent police review boards to hold police departments and/or police officers accountable that violates constitutional rights.
Jerry also supports ending federal laws that permit the federal government to send military surplus to local law enforcement agencies. The practice has caused local police forces to look and act like soldiers going to war, instead of community partners. The civil unrest we see from communities after the death of community members at the hands of police is exacerbated by the presence and use of military-style force and weapons by police.
Jerry believes provisions in collective bargaining agreements that shield officers with a violent history from liability are unlawful and repugnant to the public health and safety. Jerry will create a program incentivizing local police unions and municipalities to abolish those provisions to ensure violent officers are held accountable and can no longer hide behind contract provisions that shield them from punishment.
Jerry will introduce legislation to reform the federal civil rights statute, Section 1983, by abolishing the qualified immunity defense, which allows officers to escape liability if the officer “reasonably” believes his conduct was lawful, regardless of whether his actual conduct was unlawful. This is unjust. Constitutional violations by police should allow victims and victim families to win lawsuits, not give the bad actor the ability to escape liability. Jerry also strongly supports requiring local governments to pay damages to victims who have been mistreated by police employed by the local government.
Jerry also strongly supports diverting federal funding away from States and localities that facilitate the presence of police in schools. Instead, Jerry believes we need to move towards evidence-based and trauma informed services that address the needs of students.
Finally, to bring justice, Jerry will introduce legislation that would allow local U.S. Attorneys to bring suit under Section 1983. If federal laws have been violated by law enforcement, then the federal government should act on behalf of the victim to bring recourse and justice, rather than just the victim bringing suit herself.