The death of George Floyd took place in Minnesota, but it sent shockwaves across the country. In many places, its effects will redefine police roles in the community and consequences for crimes on duty.
In Texas, a bill called the George Floyd Act seeks to catalyze police reform. It comes in the wake of criticism for excessive police force and accountability for officer actions in their community.
What is this bill, and how will it reform the current system if passed? Read on to learn all you need to know!
The Issue of Qualified Immunity
At the center of the bill in Texas and a similar bill in US Congress: they will change the way police operate regarding qualified immunity.
“Qualified immunity” protects law enforcement officers as well as some government employees. It covers liability for accidents that occur during their work.
This protection allows police officers to carry out their duties without fear of being sued. They are basically shielded from lawsuits for any civil liabilities unless they violate constitutional or statutory rights.
In Texas, this renders holding officers and public officials accountable quite difficult.
The Texas George Floyd Act
In Texas, the George Floyd Act proposed by lawmakers would change a few crucial aspects about the way police interact with the community.
First, it would ban chokeholds. In fact, if an officer uses excessive force like a chokehold, it would require other officers to intervene.
Instead of automatically resorting to force, officers would be expected to attempt to de-escalate situations first. Reactive use of force often turns deadly, especially for people of color.
This bill also puts removal of qualified immunity on the table, which many officers oppose. If passed, government officials like law enforcement could be sued for deprivation of rights.
The bill would also change the crimes that warrant arrest. It would end arrests for offenses punishable by fines, like theft of items worth less than $100.
When the Police Can Use Force
Under Texas law, police do have the right to use force against a person in certain situations. It’s legal if they reasonably believe force is necessary to prevent escape after an arrest or to carry out a search or arrest in general.
The search must be lawful, which can entail a warrant, and it needs to happen before using force. The officer needs to identify themselves as a peace officer before attempting to use force – or they reasonably believe the person under arrest already understands their role.
The law does allow deadly force, but only if the person under arrest poses a substantial threat of bodily injury or death without intervention.
Under current law, police do not have a duty to retreat before using deadly force.
While the law does set these parameters, police departments across the state have a lot of wiggle room to set their own policies pertaining to force.
Local governments can also ban certain types of force, like aforementioned chokeholds, of their own volition. You should know the laws are surrounding the use of force where you live.
What Rights Do You Have?
While it’s great that the legislature is considering the Texas George Floyd Act, it’s also important to understand your rights as a citizen right now. This may help interactions with police to remain calm, in control, and, hopefully, free of violence. If you believe at any point that your rights have been violated, it’s crucial that you talk to an attorney.
Police work is transforming across the United States, hopefully for the better. Thanks to the hard work of many activists, these issues have finally surfaced in the light of day. Legislators are creating progressive bills like the George Floyd Act as a step in the right direction.
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