Ben and Jerry and others support ending qualified immunity in Vermont

Vermont Business Magazine The Campaign to End Qualified Immunity hosted a press conference at the Ben & Jerry’s Scoop Shop on Church Street in Burlington on Wednesday, March 2, demanding that legislators protect the civil rights of all Vermonters by passing S.254. This bill would end qualified immunity, the legal doctrine that shields police officers accused of misconduct from accountability and liability. The doctrine frequently prevents victims of police brutality from having their day in court.

State lawmakers introduced the bill in response to overwhelming demand for greater police accountability: In a recent poll, three out of four Vermonters supported ending qualified immunity. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Richard Sears, Sen. Rebecca Balint, Sen. Philip Baruth, and Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale, who appeared at the event alongside Rep. Selene Colburn, Zoraya Hightower, Rev. Mark Hughes, and other statewide public safety advocates. Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, co-founders of Ben & Jerry’s and co-chairs of the national Campaign to End Qualified Immunity, also spoke, and scooped free ice cream for those in attendance.

"The conversation about qualified immunity is not about tearing down police officers,” Sen. Richard Sears said when he introduced the bill late last year, “but instead about ensuring that people harmed by extreme, negligent policing, or the rare but unacceptable bad faith policing, have access to the civil justice system.”

“You can’t have a system that just relies on good cops to police bad cops. You need actual accountability,” Senator Kesha Ram Hinsdale said. “You need to end qualified immunity and remember that officers of the law, that have the right and ability to…take away people’s civil liberties and sometimes even their life, need more accountability, not less...This is a system that is broken in Vermont that we need to fix in Vermont.”

“Our system of justice in this country often delivers anything but justice,” Representative Selene Colburn said. “Vermonters who experience abuse, injury or even fatality deserve their day in court.”

“You have to tend to the base of the system that is rotted,” Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint said. “That’s what we’re doing by examining qualified immunity for the very first time in 50 years in Vermont in the Senate and saying: just because it’s been this way doesn’t mean it has to stay this way.”

““It is crucial that we continue to press forward on making real, real, actualized reform for law enforcement so that we can make a better Vermont and one in which people do not have to fear for their lives.” Kiah Morris, executive director of Rights and Democracy Vermont, said. We all deserve better.”

“What our society has defined as reasonable has very little to do with reason. It has a lot to do with who’s in power and what they want to do to maintain that power,” Burlington City Councilor Zoraya Hightower said. “A year and a half ago, we had momentum to do so much more. I want us to continue building that momentum, starting with ending qualified immunity.”

“It doesn’t make any sense for anybody to be immune from the law,” Rev. Mark Hughes, executive director of Vermont Racial Justice Alliance, said. “Especially the law.”

“I believe the very concept of qualified immunity is simply indefensible. It only protects those, by definition, who acted unreasonably,” Duane Peterson, founder of SunCommon and former law enforcement officer said. “I saw firsthand how good cops detest the bad cops. Standing with the Constitution can only be a good thing.”

“We need to end qualified immunity now. We all agree: yes, police have a difficult job. And we want to celebrate the police when they do a good job,” Jerry Greenfield, co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream and co-chair of the Campaign to End Qualified Immunity, said. “We say, love the good ones and at the same time, when people’s rights are violated, they need to be able to get justice.”

“No one should be above the law. Police should be held accountable in a court of law just like everybody else. Protecting and serving some people while abusing others is not the kind of policing Vermonters want,” Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream and co-chair of the Campaign to End Qualified Immunity, said. “Everybody deserves equal justice under the law. When police officers say they can’t do their jobs without immunity from prosecution, what they’re actually saying is that they don’t believe they can do their jobs without violating people’s civil rights,” And that’s not the kind of policing we want in this state.”

3.4.2022. Burlington, VT — Campaign to End Qualified Immunity