The California Legislative Black Caucus offered sobering words for Californians on Tuesday during a press conference, but also the hope of change for the future.
“When you have spent the vast majority of three decades struggling for equality and justice and trying to explain the life of African Americans to this nation it becomes painful to continue the conversation, said Assemblymember Shirley Weber.
She explained that she has spent her last eight years working on behalf of her community, “trying to explain to my colleagues that there is a reality that they do not understand that they would like to refuse to see and to be a part of.”
She noted her experience watching Watts in 1965 and the legacy of police brutality and said, “every incident brings me back to the same spot where we’re still mistreated, still disrespected and the issue is still is always taking a way from the real issue in this nation.”
“The issue we face in this country is the direct result of the enslavement, the continued mistreatment, the lynching and the attempts at genocide of Blacks,” Weber said. “This country has taught itself to hate African Americans. The death of George Floyd is a brutal illustration that we have not come to terms with that.”
Weber noted that focus on injustice is actually short-lived.
“There have been repeated uprisings – each as a result of the police brutality over the years – but that the outrage at the brutality of the taking of an innocent life is soon drowned out by outrage over the destruction of property,” Weber said. “Nobody condones looting or rioting. But what is often lost is that a Black man is dead, and we have not addressed how to stop that from happening.
“Our job as Black lawmakers is to be vigilant and persistent,” she said.
Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer represents South Los Angeles, Florence and Normandy, the epicenter of the 1992 civil unrest.
He noted that some of the laws that have been implemented including a law sponsored by Assemblymember Weber, AB 66, that requires the use of body worn cameras.
“We now can see what goes on in these interactions because of the law that was implemented,” he said.
In addition, AB 392, also authored by Assemblymember Weber, which as he explained, “redefines the circumstances under which a homicide by a peace officer is deemed justifiable.”
He added, “As we see in Minneapolis, you now understand that if use of force is needed, you need to understand was it done because it became an effective arrest – in California you have to be able to prevent an escape or to overcome resistance.”
“As we saw in Minneapolis, that did not meet the case,” he said. “In 2018, we passed SB 1421, which for the first time made police officer records related to firing a weapon, deadly force, sexual assault or dishonesty a matter of public record.”
He said, “This important measure significantly expanded our ability to see, evaluated, and most importantly correct officer misconduct and information that was previously unavailable to the public.”
Assemblymember Jones-Sawyer said, “California moved from having one of the most permissive standards for deadly force to one of the strongest.”
Assemblymember Kevin McCarty from Sacramento said, “We’re frankly speaking truth to power and the power is us and what we need to do to tackle our unfinished business here in the California legislature.”
“We need to look at ourselves to address the issues of institutional racism,” he said. “We know what we need to do to tackle these systemic issues that weigh down and hold back black California. We don’t always have the courage to do what needs to be done.”
He noted some of the urgency bills including ACA 5 that would repeal Prop 209 and restore affirmative action.
“This would restore equity and opportunity for black businesses and black students across California as well as women and other minorities in California,” he said.
Senator Steve Bradford said, “In the words of Fanny Lou Hamer, ‘we are sick and tired of being sick and tired.’”
“We have seen night after night, the protests throughout this state and this nation by people who are sick and tired of the status quo,” he said.
“We are sick and tired of seeing unarmed black men and women, killed by police,” he said. “We’re sick and tired of seeing these officers not being held accountable for their actions.”
He said that the Legislative Black Caucus will remain committed to police reform legislation.
He said, “This includes making sure that police recruitment focuses on hiring diverse candidates that reflect the values of the community that they serve and removing unnecessary barriers to entry. Ensuring that all officers throughout the state are properly trained in recognizing implicit bias, community policing and alternative uses of force…”
He later added, “It is no longer enough to say you’re not a racist. It’s time to prove it.”
Senator Holly Mitchell talked about a bill she carried, SB 227, dealing with grand juries. She noted it did pass and became law of the land.
“We fight to get the bills passed, we fight to get them signed into law, and then the court challenges come,” the Senator said. “The District Attorneys find a DA in a rural area to put forward the challenge. They’re strategic in finding a rural court that will very likely overturn it.”
SB 227 she explained was brought to court by the DA in El Dorado County Vern Pearson (who has also challenged SB 1437 – felony murder reform). The Third Appellate District Court ruled the measure unconstitutional. The Supreme Court chose not to hear it.
“While we fight the battles here legislatively and talk about Grand Juries are not the appropriate place for peace officers who commit murder to have their day in court,” she said. “The court system has been manipulated to continue to protect the people who take our lives every day.”
Assemblymember Weber in closing said, “You can only as we’ve discovered, keep your foot on the neck of someone for so long. You’ll either kill them and the world will see as we see or that person will get stronger and rise up against you.”
She added that people have become more solemn and taken this incident more serious. “The question becomes, how long does that last?” she said.
“The question becomes what are police departments going to do,” and she noted that San Diego police decided to stop carotid restraints. “We’ve been fighting that for year after year and they felt they needed it.” The City Council ended the policy the other day.
But she asked will these changes become systemic.
“Every riot has had a quick response, but it doesn’t sustain itself and we find ourselves back in the same situation,” she said. But she said people need to “recognize just how deep and pervasive the racism the racism in this country is.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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