Editorials

Deadly force reform bill faces crucial test. Your voice can make a difference

Watch as clergy and Stephon Clark’s family join together to support of use of force bill

Ministers and Stephon Clark's family marched to the California Capitol in support of AB 392, a bill that would limit when police can use deadly force, on Thursday, March 7, 2019.
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Ministers and Stephon Clark's family marched to the California Capitol in support of AB 392, a bill that would limit when police can use deadly force, on Thursday, March 7, 2019.

Efforts to reform the use of deadly force by police face a critical test this week. Assembly Bill 392, authored by Assemblymember Shirley Weber (D-San Diego), will be heard in the Assembly Public Safety Committee at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, April 9, in Room 4202 of the State Capitol.

Committee hearings are crucial milestones for legislative bills. Before proceeding for a full vote of a legislative body, a bill must first survive committee. During a committee hearing, citizens have a chance to voice their support – or opposition – to the bill. It’s as simple as showing up, lining up and speaking up. Anyone who supports deadly force reform should attend the committee hearing if possible.

AB 392 needs all the support it can get. The debate over the bill is shaping up to be one of the biggest fights in the State Legislature this year. Last month – in the wake of District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert’s decision to not file charges against the officers who killed Stephon Clark – hundreds of people marched on the Capitol to demand change.

The original version of the bill, AB 931, was introduced just weeks after Sacramento police shot Clark to death in the backyard of his grandparent’s Meadowview home. Many in our community have channeled their frustration and anger over his death into advocacy for changing the law.

The national press has taken notice, and CALmatters has launched a new podcast called “Force of Law.”

“The police have a ton of political power and, at the same time, there’s a lot of outrage over the killing of Stephon Clark,” said Laurel Rosenhall, the podcast’s host, outlining the political stakes of the debate. “Those competing forces will shape how politicians determine whether this is the year California enacts the nation’s toughest statewide standard for justifying lethal force.”

Strong opposition from law enforcement groups resulted in Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins shelving the bill last year, said Rosenhall, but Atkins pledged to work with Weber on a bill to “make California a model for the rest of the country.”

Is that happening? It’s not clear yet.

Law enforcement groups have introduced their own legislation, Senate Bill 230, authored by state Senator Anna Caballero (D-Salinas). And if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Assemblymember Weber must feel pretty special.

The law enforcement groups opposing her bill appear to be doing everything they can to mimic her legislation without actually achieving any real reform. SB 230’s supporters use terms like “comprehensive” and “reform,” but the bill does no such thing. As originally written it would require law enforcement agencies to establish guidelines and training, but has no specific requirements of any kind around use of deadly force.

SB 230 would essentially allow legislators to appear to vote for “reform” without actually reforming anything. It’s about as cynical as Sacramento ploys get: A decoy bill designed to subvert real reform, complete with a campaign of overwrought ads attacking the rival legislation.

But SB 230 may be changing. Caballero told Capital Public Radio reporter Ben Adler she plans major amendments to her bill. The amended bill will include “almost every single one” of the recommendations Attorney General Xavier Becerra made to the Sacramento Police Department in a report conducted in the aftermath of the Clark shooting, she said.

“Every police department and every agency would have to send their officers back for re-training,” Caballero told CapRadio. “It’s a culture shift. And the goal would be to make sure we have alternatives to deadly use of force.”

The amendments haven’t been made public, so we can’t judge whether they’re as significant as Caballero makes them sound. SB 230 will head to committee later this month.

But here’s one thing that’s clear: Public pressure is making a difference on this issue.

When people use their voices to speak powerfully for change, their voices get heard. The Assembly Public Safety Committee hearing – at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday in Room 4202 of the State Capitol – provides another big opportunity for the Sacramento community to affect the outcome of this debate. Those who can’t attend the hearing can share their thoughts by calling the offices of the committee’s members:

Assemblymember Reginald Jones-Sawyer: 916-319-2059

Assemblymember Tom Lackey: 916-319-2036

Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan: 916-319-2016

Assemblymember Tyler Diep: 916-319-2072

Assemblymember Sydney Kamlager-Dove: 916-319-2054

Assemblymember Bill Quirk: 916-319-2020

Assemblymember Miguel Santiago: 916-319-2053

Assemblymember Buffy Wicks: 916-319-2015

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