By Rob Macon, KPFK Local Station Board member

According to California lawmakers, 162 people in the state were fatally shot by police last year. Studies prove that Black people are killed by cops in CA far more often per capita than white people. Long Beach, Bakersfield, Santa Ana, San Bernardino and Stockton are 5 of the nation’s 15 police departments with the highest per capita rates of killings by officers. The LAPD or LASD have taken turns as the most murderous department in the country for the past few years.

The family of Stephon Clark, a 22-year-old unarmed black man whom Sacramento police killed, along with the ACLU and several lawmakers are pushing a measure to make California the first state to significantly restrict an officer’s option to use deadly force. Under the law, potentially fatal force could be used legally only if “there were no other reasonable alternative,” said Lizzy Buchen of the American Civil Liberties Union. “We should no longer be target practice or victims of a ‘shoot first, ask question later’ police force, said Assemblyman Chris Holden, chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus. Democratic Assemblyman Kevin McCarty of Sacramento in authoring the legislation, said, “The goal is to defuse confrontations or use less deadly weapons.”

The bill is opposed by several organizations of police officers. Officers are against any measure “that will make it more difficult to hire officers and be dangerous because they may hesitate when confronting an armed suspect threatening themselves and bystanders,” said Ed Obayashi, a Plumas County Sheriff’s Deputy and Special Prosecutor.

California’s current standard makes it rare for officers to be charged after a shooting and rarer still for them to be convicted. Many District Attorneys in counties like LA with many police killings have never brought charges. Frequently, it’s because of the doctrine that police can use deadly force because of a “reasonable fear” for their own or others’ safety. If prosecutors or jurors believe that officers have a reason to fear their safety, deadly force will be considered ‘justified’.

The tougher proposed standard could require officers to delay confronting a suspect they fear may be armed until backup arrives, and force police to give “explicit verbal warning that the suspect will be killed unless they drop the weapon,” said Buchen of the ACLU. The proposal would open officers who don’t follow the strict rules to discipline or firing, and sometimes even criminal charges.

Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, a San Diego Democrat, who also heads a public safety oversight committee, said she hopes the recent heavily publicized string of police shootings of Black and Brown suspects and continuing mass protests over  the March killing of Stephon Clark will be enough to overcome any law enforcement resistance. Black Lives Matter LA and allies traveled to Sacramento in April and testified before a legislative committee hearing a companion measure, lifting restrictions on providing public information about an officer’s history of misconduct, prior founded complaints and use of force, and the measure was approved by the committee and will be considered by the full legislature.

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