Bill Ending Qualified Immunity Falls One Vote Short

One of the biggest bills being discussed heading into the General Assembly’s special session was HB5013. This was a bill that would have ended qualified immunity for law enforcement and allowed civilians to sue the police when they’re victims of excessive force or other types of police misconduct. After several Democrats joined Republicans in either voting against the legislation or abstaining, however, the bill fell one vote short of passing.

Almost immediately after the vote, community advocates who’ve been standing up against police brutality began speaking out and focused in on a few of the Democratic legislators who held up passage. Kofi Annan, for instance, is a community activist in Northern Virginia who expressed frustration with Del. Ibraheem Samirah’s no vote.

“HB5013 to end #QualifiedImmunity failed in the House today. My Delegate and so-called #progressive Ibraheem Samirah voted NO,” Kofi tweeted. “Seriously WTH!!”

“Do the right thing and change you vote,” another person told Samirah while calling his vote shamefull. “Your constituents are beyond disappointed as you have failed them with this decision!”

As the backlash from the community continued to grow, Del. Samirah eventually took to social media to explain his vote. He claimed he actually wanted the bill to pass and therefore only voted against the bill so he could eventually reintroduce it. Since the bill fell one short vote of passing, however, community leaders like Tram Nguyen from New Virginia Majority were quick to highlight how they felt Samirah’s logic simply didn’t add up.

“The “no” vote to be on the prevailing side to bring it back up was unnecessary when your “yes” vote would have just passed the bill,” Nguyen said.

When Samirah claimed the well respected community leader was being “factually inacurate,” Anna Scholl from Progress Virginia quickly chimed in and posted a screenshot of the roll call vote that highlighted how Nguyen’s statement was indeed the truth. “Facts? Here’s the roll call vote,” Anna said. “If you had voted yes, the bill would have passed 48-47 and would not need to be reconsidered.”

Even the bill’s sponsor in the House went after Del. Samirah claiming he “told everyone what [he] was going to do” but never included “the plan to save it.” Del. Jeff Bourne went on to tell Samirah “you knew the vote count before you voted NO. These issues/lives are not for games, likes retweets or any foolish clown show.”

Although it wasn’t explicity said, the obvious impication of Bourne’s tweet is that Samirah has only begun telling the public he was going to “save the bill” by reintroducing it after he started hearing from a lot of constituents who were outraged over his vote. That being said, there were other member of the House who expressed their disappointment without directly addressing individuals who voted against it.

“HB 5013 removed barriers to justice for victims of police brutality by ending qualified immunity, a doctine that has too often been used to deny access to the courts and impacted policing of communities of color,” Del. Dan Helmer said in a statement. “I’m disappointed that justice is once again delayed, but I look forward to working with my colleagues in January to move a better bill forward and continue the fight for fair policing for all Virginians.”

Despite the frustration from the public who supported the legislation, it does appear as though they have some hope in seeing the bill passed. The ACLU of Virginia, for instance, has called for “all hands on deck” and claimed people should be contacting Delegates who voted no or abstained in order encourage a revote. And after she abstained from the vote, Del. Kaye Kory has  already said she’s willing to have discussions about how to move forward.

In other words, the vote on HB 5013 doesn’t represent the end of the road for advocates of ending police brutality and the discussion surrounding qualified immunity for law enforcement will continue in Virginia.

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