The police shooting of an unarmed black man in Sacramento, resulting in the death of Stephon Clark, has spurred the proposal of a new California law. It would change the almost 150-year-old definition of when an officer can apply deadly force.
Democratic Assemblywoman Shirley Weber announced the legislation in a packed hearing room at the state Capitol, flanked by advocates from the ACLU, Black Lives Matter in Sacramento, and the grandfather of Stephon Clark.
The bill would largely restrict police from using deadly force except in scenarios where it’s necessary to protect human life.
“We know that our police officers have the capacity to do this, because they do it every day in other communities,” said Weber, who specifically mentioned police apprehending the Parkland shooter and the Charleston church shooter — two white men. “It’s not like it’s strange or unusual. So what we have to do is make sure that that knowledge that they have and the skills that they have is now applied to the African-Americans that they meet every day on the streets.”
California’s current use-of-force laws date back to 1872. They allow officers to use “reasonable” force to make an arrest or overcome resistance.
“If the person to be arrested either flees or forcibly resists, the officer may use all necessary means to effect the arrest,” reads another section.
The U.S. Supreme Court has allowed officers wide discretion about what constitutes reasonable.
Some law enforcement agencies, including the NYPD, San Francisco Police Department and the U.S. Department of Justice, require their officers use a higher standard, similar to the California proposal, where deadly force is only justified when necessary to immediately protect lives.
Shaun Rundle of the California Peace Officers Association says his organization will evaluate the proposed changes in the bill, but he expresses some skepticism.
“We just have some thoughts that to assume right now that an officer does not consider all other reasonable alternatives before resorting to deadly force is, I think, somewhat inaccurate,” Rundle said.
Support or opposition by law enforcement groups could decide whether the bill becomes law. They hold great sway in Sacramento, and, in recent years, attempts to standardize the use of body cameras and to release more police records have failed when those groups have argued they could put officers at risk.