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Virginia NAACP calls for end to 'qualified immunity' after police pepper spray incident

Virginia NAACP calls for end to 'qualified immunity' after police pepper spray incident
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Virginia's branch of the NAACP has called for the state's governor, Ralph Northam (D), to convene a special session of the state's legislature this week and work to pass a Democratic bill that would end qualified immunity for police in the state.

Qualified immunity is a provision used by some states to shield police and other government officials from lawsuits. In practice, qualified immunity statutes block most legal action targeting police departments over excessive use of force.

"[W]e believe that now is the time for Governor Ralph Northam to call a special session of the Virginia General Assembly to pass House Bill 2045 sponsored by Delegate Jeff Bourne to finally end qualified immunity,” said the NAACP of Virginia's executive director, Da'Quan Marcell Love, in a news release.

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The organization's calls come after a video of a police encounter between two Windsor police officers and a Black commissioned military officer went viral and led to criticism of police tactics.

At one point in the video the Black Army second lieutenant, Caron Nazario, tells officers that he is afraid to exit his vehicle while officers' guns were pointed at him, to which one officer is heard responding, "Yeah, you should be."

Nazario was later pepper-sprayed by one of the officers and has since filed suit against the officers.

“The fact that an officer who is supposed to ‘protect and serve’ felt embolden enough to state this is the root of the problem. This isn’t the first officer we have seen without fear of consequences for their actions," added Robert N. Barnette Jr., president of the NAACP of Virginia.

A spokeswoman for the governor's office indicated Northam's support for police reform but did not say whether the governor would support an end to qualified immunity. New Mexico's governor signed a bill into law ending the practice last week.

“The Commonwealth has made tremendous progress over the last two years—banning no knock warrants, curbing pretextual stops, mandating crisis intervention training for police, limiting the use of choke holds, establishing civilian review boards—but there is more to do to ensure all Virginians are treated safely, and with basic respect, in interactions with police,” said the spokesperson.