Police misconduct makes headlines, but there are multiple instances where people are injured at the hands of government.
- Students denied equal access to education
- Citizens denied the right to vote
- Inmates denied medically appropriate care
- Loved ones wrongfully convicted
- Individuals arrested for recording police stops
- Persons denied free speech or religious rights
- Persons involuntarily committed without due process
- Communities subjected to racial profiling and illegal policing
- Retaliation by government on whistleblowers
Sometimes injuries are due to bad actors, but the majority of injuries arise due to problems writing or implementing policy. And still others are injured because the law is evolving and the government is playing catch up.
Two such areas where government is playing catch up involve disability and LGBT rights. Schools are working to incorporate into their nondiscrimination policies, provisions that provide students an education free from discrimination based upon perceived or actual gender nonconformity or sexual orientation. Another example is government playing catch up with technology which provides people with disabilities greater access to accommodations in the workforce as well as at the voting booth.
Fortunately, there is a remedy when the government violates our federal rights.
Sometimes old laws have modern relevance, and one such law is getting a lot of attention lately. Enacted in 1871, 42 U.S.C. §1983, provided a federal remedy when police officers in the South looked the other way when members of the Klu Klux Klan attacked African-Americans. The statute provides in part:
“Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress . . .”
Action was brought, not against the KKK, but against local police officers to get them to enforce the law evenly. This federal law permits courts to order government agencies (in this case, law enforcement) to take certain actions. The law has evolved to allow injured parties to collect money in some cases as well as attorney fees (which can encourage attorneys in private practice to take the case).
Section 1983 claims, as they are called, were used during Reconstruction and then didn’t get much use until the ‘60’s during the Civil Rights era.
To qualify for Section 1983 protection, your US Constitutional or federal rights must be violated by a government actor, which can now include government contractors in certain instances. If a private citizen or business (not acting on behalf of government) violates your civil rights there other remedies, but a Section 1983 case won’t be one of them.
The Indianapolis Star ran an excellent story on an innocent man wrongfully convicted. Keith Cooper was victimized by our justice system, and now that he is out of jail, he is working to clear his name and recover for all those years he was wrongfully imprisoned. One of his remedies will be to seek redress under Section 1983.
Finding help can mean looking at all available resources, which will be covered in the following post.
In the meantime, document everything you can about your injury, including names and contact information. Gather witness statements as well as their contact information. Make public records requests to obtain documents, police reports, and policies.
And check back for the next post on where to find help.