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Civil Rights Groups Seeking An End To 'Qualified Immunity' In Ohio

Iris Roley, Member of the Cincinnati Black United Front, speaks about qualified immunity under a gazebo in Jacob Hoffner Park in Cincinnati. She has been a civil rights and police reform activist for about 20 years.
Mawa Iqbal
Iris Roley, member of the Cincinnati Black United Front, speaks in Cincinnati on Saturday afternoon about her work to end qualified immunity. She has been a civil rights and police reform activist for about 20 years.

A coalition of local and statewide civil rights groups are trying to end qualified immunity in Ohio.

The group, Accountability Now Ohio, set up a petition drive in Cincinnati Saturday afternoon. Their goal is to collect about two thousand signatures from Montgomery, Franklin and Hamilton counties in order to register as a political action committee.

Once they are a PAC, they will start hosting more petition drives in at least 44 counties to reach 440,000 signatures. Their goal is to get this ballot measure on the November 2022 ballot.

The measure would prohibit the use of qualified immunity on the statewide level. This is a legal practice that shields government officials from civil suits, by saying that they had made a “reasonable mistake” when performing their duties.

Iris Roley says qualified immunity is often used in police brutality cases, where white officers are sued for killing unarmed Black people. Roley is a member of the Cincinnati Black United Front, and they have been fighting to end qualified immunity for the past 20 years.

What I do have more time for is collective organizations and collective bodies coming together to eradicate the opportunity of police to kill, maim, murder and harm Black people,” Roley said. “I do not apologize for fighting for Black folk. Let me tell you about the decades and centuries of brutality. I'm surprised we are as well as we are today.”

Roley says this work is exhausting and requires all hands on deck. She urged everyone to get involved, especially the non-Black attendees.

“We got to keep our eyes collectively on all systems,” Roley said. “We have to. If we don't they find it in another way. So our process works when people work together and we are able to hold [the police] accountable.”

The CBUF has been working closely with Accountability Now Ohio. The group’s last stop is in Columbus in early May.

Mawa Iqbal is a reporter for WYSO. Before coming to WYSO, she interned at Kansas City PBS's digital magazine, Flatland. There, her reporting focused on higher education and immigrant communities in the Kansas City area. She studied radio journalism at Mizzou, where she also worked for their local NPR-affiliate station as a reporter.