The California State Senate Public Safety Committee has given the go-ahead to a bill that would restrict police officers from using deadly force. State Senator Steven Bradford says the change is needed to help address racism in California.
"It always blows me away when law enforcement fear for their life, only when they're facing black and brown people. We don't have a problem with law enforcement, we got a problem with racism in this country," said Bradford during the hearing on Tuesday.
AB-931 was designed to increase California's standard for lethal use of force by changing wording in existing policy, removing "reasonable force" and changing it to "necessary force." That change would only allow officers to justify lethal means if there were no other alternatives available to them.
Bradford says there are huge discrepancies in how minorities and white people are policed in California and that needs to change.
"Just a week after Stephon Clark was murdered, law enforcement encountered a white man who not only had a rifle, but fired at them several times. That individual is home safe today," said Bradford.
At least twenty shots were fired at Clark, who was unarmed, after police encountered him outside his grandmother's home. Police say they mistook Clark's cell phone for a gun when they fired on him. The killing was followed by several days of protests in Sacramento with marchers calling for justice and for the officers to be fired.
The bill faces a long and controversial path as it winds its way through the legislature. At the Public Safety hearing, representatives for rank-and-file police and management objected to the policy change, saying they weren't interested in more funding for retraining.
"We agree that more training can result in better outcomes, but there is a fundamental disagreement about raising the standard above what the Supreme Court has said," Jonathan Feldman, a lobbyist for the California Police Chiefs Association, told The Sacramento Bee.
A legal precedent established by the Supreme Court more than thirty years ago says police can kill suspects if a "reasonable" officer who found themselves in similar circumstances would have acted in the same way. AB-931 would limit that justification officers can make if they do not have any other alternatives to protect themselves or others.
Bradford called the use of deadly force by police a form of oppression.
"The use of deadly force was only enacted in this country after slavery as another way of suppressing black people in this country. And that mindset has not changed to this day," said Bradford.
The bill passed the Senate committee with a five-to-one vote.
If passed by the legislature and signed by the governor, California would be the first state to adopt such a standard. However, many cities in the Golden State, like San Francisco, already have similar, or even more restrictive rules on an officer's use of force.
More than 160 people were shot to death last year by police, only half of whom had guns according to state records.
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