On Saturday, Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 953, The Racial and Identity Profiling Act of 2015, into California law. The law, AB 953, written by Assemblymember Shirley Weber, requires law enforcement agencies to collect basic information on police stops in response to growing concerns about racial profiling and police misconduct.
“I am grateful to the Governor – who along with his father has been on the forefront of civil rights issues for the last half century – for his careful consideration and for his support for this bill,” Assemblymember Weber said. “AB 953 will be the state’s first step toward not only understanding the problem of racial profiling, but also toward formulating policies to reduce the practice and its devastating consequences. California is going in a new direction on this issue; hopefully, this will set an example for other states.”
According to an independent analysis, unarmed black men are seven times more likely than unarmed white men to die by police gunfire nationwide. California holds the ominous record for the highest number of deaths in the country, with 149 people killed by law enforcement in the state this year. However, the state still does not collect, analyze, or make available basic information about whom the police, stop, search or even shoot.
“As people of faith, we were compelled to pray for Governor Brown’s moral courage to sign AB 953 and take a step to end the suffering of Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities that are traumatized by racial profiling and overly aggressive policing practices. This precedent setting legislation is historic – it is both a moral and legal victory for our state and our nation. The people have spoken and no longer will we be held hostage by rogue officers and departments who see us as criminals unworthy of human dignity simply by virtue of the color of our skin,” said Rev. Ben McBride, Director of Regional Clergy Development with PICO California.
AB 953 will go one step further than other similar laws, like one adopted in Connecticut, to include both traffic and pedestrian stops. Governor Brown also signed into law another data collection bill, Assembly Bill 71, to gather information about police use of force.
“As the rest of the country grapples with issues of police misconduct and racial profiling, Governor Brown delivered a strong message with the stroke of his pen. Now California has the strongest laws against police violence and racial profiling, thus paving the way for the rest of the nation,” said Salimah Hankins, Director of Legislative Advocacy for Dignity and Power Now.
AB 953 was introduced by Assemblymember Shirley Weber (D-San Diego) to identify and address problems with disparate policing as they pertain to police stops.
AB 953 will update California’s definition of racial and identity profiling to be in line with federal recommendations by including other demographic characteristics, such as gender and sexual orientation. It will also require that California law enforcement agencies uniformly collect and report data on stops, frisks, and other interactions with the communities they serve.
Finally, it will establish an advisory board to analyze stop data and develop recommendations to address problems with disparate policing where they exist.
According to the bill fact sheet, “In California, many people have been victims of the humiliating and frightening experience of identity profiling. A 2015 report by a police department in California found that blacks were stopped twice as often as their driving age demographic representation, and that blacks and Latinos were searched at three and two times the rate of whites, respectively. However, those searches showed that blacks and Latinos were less likely to be arrested.
“In 2000, the CA legislature found that ‘racial profiling is a practice that presents a great danger to the fundamental principles of a democratic society,’ and declared that ‘it is abhorrent and cannot be tolerated.’ Subsequently, the Legislative Analyst’s Office found that California’s law on profiling is too vague and that law enforcement agencies have resisted following it.”
They claim, “AB 953 will improve public safety, protect the rights of all Californians, and advance police-community relations.”
“Recent incidents have forced us to confront some ugly truths about the persistence of racial bias in law enforcement. One of our best defenses is information about who is stopped by police and why. Currently, information on these incidents isn’t provided publicly in a comprehensive way. The goal of AB 953 is to rectify this so we can make policies with the best information possible,” Assemblymember Weber said.
In August, a poll was released conducted by Tulchin Research, showing 69 percent of likely California voters support AB 953. The statewide poll, conducted in July for the ACLU of California Center for Advocacy and Policy, found that nearly two-thirds of voters (65%) in California believe black people are more likely to be discriminated against by police. This includes nearly 9 out of 10 black voters (89%) who believe the same.
Seventy-one percent of California voters believe police are most likely to discriminate against young black men. Similarly, voters view Latinos (58%) and young Latino men (61%) as groups that are more likely to be discriminated against. There is strong voter support (71%) for legislation aimed to increase transparency and accountability when it comes to law enforcement’s use of force reporting practices, such as AB 619 (Weber) and AB 71 (Rodriguez).
Nearly every voter (95%) reports having heard of the recent high-profile police shootings and misconduct cases in Ferguson, New York and Charleston, and most voters (80%) believe something like that could very well happen in California.
“The numbers speak for themselves. When it comes to AB 953: The Racial and Identity Profiling Act of 2015, Californians across the board support this solution-based proposal to put us on the path to fair policing,” said Natasha Minsker, Director of the ACLU of California Center for Advocacy and Policy, in a statement Wednesday.
She added, “In the wake of events in Ferguson, New York, Charleston and Baltimore, we have been left heartbroken and shaken by the sometimes lethal impacts of racially biased policing. This year in California, over 100 people have died at the hands of police officers. Our leaders and elected officials should listen to California voters and act on sensible reforms like AB 953.”
Here is a video of co-author Senator Holly Mitchell’s remarks:
—David M. Greenwald reporting