Who Can Protect Black Protest?

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Police violence both as the cause of and response to the racial justice protests following George Floyd’s murder called fresh attention to the need for legal remedies to hold police officers accountable. In addition to the well-publicized issue of qualified immunity, the differential regimes for asserting civil rights claims against state and federal agents for constitutional rights violations create a further barrier to relief. Courts have only recognized damages as a remedy for such abuses in limited contexts against federal employees under the Bivens framework. The history of Black protest movements reveals the violent responses police have to such challenges to the white supremacist social order. The use of federal officers in that violent response during the summer of 2020 makes the urgent need for Bivens relief for the victims of police violence clear. Fortunately, the history of the First and Fourth Amendments reveals a basis for extending Bivens relief under both Amendments in the context of the violent policing of Black protest. But will the courts or Congress extend that protection?

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