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July 31, 2020

Today, the ACLU of Virginia submitted its written testimony to the joint Senate Judiciary and Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee for the special session on policing reform. The ACLU-VA urged the committee to pass legislation that would create a way for community members to sue police in state court over police violence without the shield of qualified immunity and expand the conduct that can lead to police decertification to include serious misconduct including excessive use of force.

"The ACLU of Virginia is united in solidarity with protestors in Virginia and across the country demanding an end to violent, racist policing," wrote the ACLU-VA Legislative Director Ashna Khanna in the testimony. "We must stop tolerating a system of policing in Virginia that has been allowed to kill Black people for decades without consequence or accountability. These protests are an outpouring of rage and grief at the endless, relentless examples of unarmed Black people being brutalized and murdered at the hands of police. George Floyd and Breonna Taylor are just the latest deaths."

Currently, under Virginia law, victims of brutality or harassment by law enforcement have no ability to hold offending officers accountable for their actions. The result is that police officers have little incentive to follow the law and improve their practices. This ultimately undermines safety and justice for everyone, especially Black and Brown people who are more likely to be the target of police misconduct. Virginia must enact a law that allows Virginians to sue for money damages in state courts when they’re hurt by unconstitutional police violence. "The legal rights of Virginians should be decided in Virginia courts, by Virginia juries, with Virginia judges," stated the letter.

Additionally, the ACLU-VA called for a change in the state law that allows individual officers to engage in serious misconduct that results in bodily harm or death without professional or personal consequences. "The reality is that police officers involved in incidents of unethical behavior and misconduct that are “fired” or “let go” or “resign” are often rehired by another police department," stated the letter. "This is only a temporary way of removing a bad cop from the street. We need to break the cycle of firing and rehiring officers."

The ACLU-VA encouraged Virginia lawmakers to reimagine the culture of policing while holding officers accountable for misconduct. "Inaction is not an option in the fight against systemic racism," wrote Khanna. "Black activists and grassroots organizers have been working on police reform for decades. Many legislators on this committee have been pushing for reform for years. It is now time to implement these long-overdue police accountability mechanisms. We have the facts, the experiences, and the data. The time for implementation is now."

You can read the full testimony below.