By Crescenzo Vellucci
Vanguard Sacramento Bureau
SACRAMENTO – While law enforcement lobbyists troll lawmakers here and entice legislators with campaign contributions in an attempt to bury a measure designed to radically curb police violence, the people – without big PAC money or political influence – took to the “streets” Monday.
In this case, the “streets” mean the halls of the State Capitol. Hundreds marched, shouted, chanted, sang, prayed and eventually blocked hallways with a massive die-in representing the 172 people killed by police in the state this last year.
There were no arrests in the hour-and-half protest, but Senators and Assemblymembers alike knew something was up because the sounds were deafening in the hallways. And no doubt in their offices.
AB 931, authored by Assemblymembers Shirley Weber (D-San Diego) and Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento), would mandate officers fire their weapons only if “necessary,” not when they believe it “reasonable.”
Right now, the measure is languishing in the Senate Appropriations Committee “Suspense” file – meaning it has to be released within the next few weeks or it dies this legislative session. It’s already passed the full Assembly.
The proposed legislation comes at a time in the state – and especially the capital city of Sacramento – when Black people are seemingly being gunned down regularly by law enforcement.
It hit some kind of a peak March 18 when 22-year-old Stephon Clark was shot eight times (20 shots were fired) as he tried to enter a family house where he lived. Sacramento police said he had a gun. He did not. Only a cell phone.
The shooting of Clark sparked nearly daily protests at City Hall, and through the city of Sacramento in its streets and NBA arena (two NBA games shut down with only a few 1,000 attending after protestors blocked entrances). To fan the flames, a Sacramento County Deputy Sheriff ran down a Stephon Clark shooting protestor and sent her to the hospital.
Law enforcement has been roundly criticized, from people in the streets to editorial boards of major newspapers, for not doing enough – or anything – to stop rogue officers who shoot first and ask questions later, using their weapons, often against unarmed civilians, without taking steps to de-escalate tense situations.
Monday, at the Capitol protest organized by PICO California, hundreds of people were determined to make themselves heard to lawmakers – in loud action, not campaign contributions or using slick lobbyists.
In a released statement, PICO California said:
“The primary purpose of this bill is to save lives and to keep the community safe. We know that when police departments use de-escalation tactics it ensures that our loved ones will not be shot and killed. AB 931 will emphasize de-escalation as the primary tactic and only allow deadly force when there is no other alternative. It will ensure that police officers are held accountable when they use deadly force without attempting to de-escalate a situation.
“AB 931 states that police officers shouldn’t kill someone but instead utilize de-escalation tactics before pulling the trigger. It’s a workable concrete solution to prevent unnecessary killings of our families. California must hold law enforcement to a higher standard to reduce the unnecessary killing of our loved ones. Laws like AB 931 have already been enacted in other states like Seattle where they’ve seen a decrease in civilian deaths.”
During the protest, activists shouted, “Pass AB 931,” and one person noted that “they want us to be play nice and be quiet…but we won’t,” and promised, over the din, that “we’ll be back and not just here but where you live,” if the measure wasn’t moved from Appropriations to the floor of the Senate for a full vote.
Law enforcement has declared that if officers question themselves, and don’t use force immediately, as a first option, then officer lives and civilian lives will be lost.
However, Seattle, which AB 931 is largely based upon, has seen few cop and civilian deaths, and lower crime rates since the policy of use of lethal first only as a last resort was employed.
Still, as Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer told reporters: “When officers are out there, and they’re faced with a split-second decision, and they are now worried about not only losing their life but losing their freedom and going to prison, they may hesitate long enough to where their life or the life of a citizen is in danger.”
But, state police have killed 929 people between 2013 and 2017, according to the Poor People’s Campaign, noting that “the current standard gives police too much discretion,” and emphasizing that the use of lethal force is concentrated in “so-called high-risk communities – our most neglected, impoverished neighborhoods (that) have been subjected to decades of racism, segregation and discrimination.
“We face police hostility, brutality and violence if we are poor, if we are people of color, if we are mentally ill, if we are homeless. AB 931 is an important piece of the ongoing call…to reverse the unjust, racially discriminatory and unnecessarily violent police practices that have tragically impacted not just individuals and families but whole communities,” said the Poor People’s Campaign Monday.
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