Players Coalition Calls on Governor Hochul, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins, Speaker of the NYS Assembly Heastie and Members of the New York Legislature to Pass S1991/A4331
May 17, 2022
Re: S1991 and a4331
Dear Governor Hochul, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins, Speaker of the NYS Assembly Heastie and members of the New York legislature:
We are a collective of current and former professional athletes and coaches from across twelve professional sports leagues in America. We are tired of conversations around police accountability that go nowhere, and we have engaged in too many “listening sessions” where we discuss whether there is a problem of police violence in this country. There is a problem. The world witnessed it when Officer Chauvin murdered George Floyd, and after the government failed to pass any accountability on the federal level, it’s time for New York to step up to the plate and protect its communities.
We are writing to ask that you pass S1991/A4331, the bill to end qualified immunity sponsored by Assembly Member Pamela Hunter and Senator Robert Jackson. The Supreme Court has caused irreparable harm to public trust by creating and then expanding the doctrine of qualified immunity, which often exempts police officers and others from liability, even for shocking abuse. Under that doctrine, first developed in 1967 and widened ever since, plaintiffs must show that government officials violated “clearly established” law to receive damages for harm. A plaintiff wins only if a prior Court found an official liable under a nearly identical fact-pattern. This standard is virtually impossible to meet, and the protections promised under section 1983 seem largely symbolic as a result.
Qualified immunity has shielded some of the worst law enforcement officials in America. In 2011, Kenneth Chamberlain Sr. was killed in his home in White Plains after police were responding to a medical emergency. The police got off on qualified immunity and his family still has not received any form of accountability 11 years later.
But New York’s bill would go one step farther. This historic legislation would not only hold law enforcement accountable for their actions, but all government officials, like correctional officers. In 2017, Darlene McDay’s son, Dante, was brutally beaten by correctional officers while incarcerated, and subsequently died. She was told that her son had a seizure the night before and when medical help was called “several guards rushed into Dante’s cell and began to beat him…until his face and body were unrecognizable.” Almost five years later, Darlene still has not gotten justice due to qualified immunity.
It is time for New York to eliminate qualified immunity, and it can do so by passing S1991/A4331. Not only is it the right thing to do, it is the popular thing to do. Recent statewide polling found that 58 percent of New Yorkers favor doing away with the contested doctrine.
When police officers kill an unarmed man, when they beat a woman, or when they shoot a child, the people of this country must have a way to hold them accountable in a court of law. And officers must know that if they act in such a manner, they will be held accountable. A legal system that does not provide such a recourse is an illegitimate one. The Courts and elected officials alike have instead shielded people who caused unspeakable harm. Ending qualified immunity means a safer New York for everyone. Ending qualified immunity means repairing trust between public officials and the public. You cannot have trust without accountability and there is no accountability with qualified immunity.
New York must not be complicit in these injustices, and it should take this important step to show that governmental abuse will not be tolerated.
Players Coalition is structured as an independent 501(c)(3) (charity) and 501(c)(4) (advocacy) organization, working with professional athletes, coaches and owners across leagues to improve social justice and racial equality in our country.