By Crescenzo Vellucci
Vanguard Sacramento Bureau
SACRAMENTO – The stories of family members shot down by law enforcement are truly heartbreaking – and they just keep coming…stories of pain and suffering after police open fire.
Monday, those stories of loss by mothers – just a day after Mother’s Day – were the focus of yet another rally for the passage of AB 392 (California Act to Save Lives), which would update California’s nearly century and a half use of lethal force laws.
“Mothers are concerned every day” about the loss of their child…you’d think the (killing) would stop but we have new nightmares,” said Assemblyperson Shirley Weber (D-San Diego), the primary author of AB 392, which has passed a key committee vote.
The South Steps rally at the State Capitol Monday featured several hundred mothers and other loved ones of victims of police shootings, who fanned out through the offices of lawmakers to try to influence them to support AB 392, despite objections by police unions.
AB 392 would reform how law enforcement officers respond to street situations, requiring them to use lethal force only when necessary to save their lives or the lives of others. It requires law enforcement to use alternatives – like warnings, de-escalation or other nonlethal methods before lethal force.
Law enforcement lobbyists killed the bill last year, and this year have come back with their own legislation. But AB 392 this year has more sponsors and more “street cred,” say its sponsors.
“Mothers of color worry,” said Weber, who noted that when white kids run through backyards and jump fences “it’s a prank.” But, mothers of Black and Brown kids have to worry because, she said, more than half of those killed by law enforcement were people of color.
In fact, according to Skinner, 172 people in the state were killed by police and half of them were unarmed. California leads the nation in death by cops – California police killed at a rate 37 percent higher than the national average, and Kern County police killed more people per capita than any other county in the U.S.
“AB 392 is the safest strategy to save lives,” said Weber, emphasizing that police should not use deadly force “unless they have to do so. We want change. We cannot wait any longer,” added Weber.
One of the mothers speaking, Gerry Eatons, said her son was killed in 2015 by Bakersfield Police (Kern County) officers – he was shot seven times in the back and side.
Alice Corley of Long Beach said that AB 392 would have “helped” her son, and he would “be alive today if AB 392 was law then.
“They (police) are paid serial killers and murderers. If they are so afraid of us, they should stay out of our neighborhoods,” she said.
“They beat, tasered and then choked to death the father of my children. There was no weapon and no crime,’ related Dotty Gonzalez about the death at the hands of the Anaheim PD. “This never should have happened…my kids need a Dad.”
And, Linda Gonzalez’s son died after being shot 13 times in seven seconds by Hayward Police.
“He didn’t have a knife (but) the officers were so scared….maybe if they are so scared they shouldn’t join the police force,” she said.
Pro-AB 392 forces insist the measure will ”save lives and prevent tragedies,” claiming, “Too many families have been shattered by police violence. Police should never take a human life when they have alternatives (and) current law allows police to use deadly force and kill someone even when officers have other options.”
AB 392 requires police to use tactics to slow down confrontations and de-escalate tension, which would save community lives and “increase the safety for officers.”
AB 392 appears to be on a winning track, despite strong opposition from law enforcement.
SB 230, a pro-police measure to retrain the state’s law enforcement officers to consider, but not mandate, other forms of use-of-force first, has been neutered, so to speak. Three weeks ago, rather than face defeat in committee, it was linked with AB 392 – which will require officers to use non-lethal use-of-force first. In short, ask questions first before shooting.
The committee approved the linkage between SB 230 and AB 392 after SB 230 author Sen. Anna Caballero (D-Salinas) agreed to remove portions of the bill that conflicted with that of Weber’s AB 392.
SB 230 didn’t require any change to the “reasonable” standard that has allowed officers to shoot and often kill people – largely people-of-color – if they simply believe there is a danger. It has resulted in people being killed who are not armed, including the Stephon Clark case last year in Sacramento where the 22-year-old held only a cell phone as he tried to enter his grandparents’ home.
But now, SB 230 – which does require that officers be trained in the reduction of lethal use-of-force – will mandate that the training to be consistent with AB 392, which will, if approved by the legislature, change the 1872 policy.
Law enforcement officers would be required to use other non-lethal forms of force, including de-escalation and warnings, before they consider lethal force.