Hours before a jury found former Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of George Floyd’s murder, California’s Black state lawmakers turned up the pressure on their colleagues to support stronger police accountability measures in 2021.
“No more kneeling and social media posts. We’ve had enough of the performative acts,” said Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), chairperson of the California Legislative Black Caucus, during an event on Tuesday. “Real police reform is needed now.”
The Legislature had mixed success in passing such measures in the months following Floyd’s death last year, as demonstrations swept cities around the nation.
Black Caucus members are now bringing back several bills that did not pass and introducing new police reforms while communities continue to wrestle with police violence against Black and brown residents.
“The reoccurring tragedies we continue to witness — not only in this state, but across this country — clearly demonstrates that existing laws are not enough to ensure the protection of all citizens from rogue cops, especially in the Black and Brown community,” Bradford said.
Shirley Weber, who led the Black Caucus until she was recently sworn in as Secretary of State, also called on lawmakers “who don’t look like me” to “step up” and support the policing bills pushed by Black lawmakers.
“We have done, as African Americans, all we can do. We will continue to write legislation,” she said. “It is now up to the rest of America to decide if they want a better America.”
Here are some of the bills Black Caucus members are pushing:
- Senate Bill 2 would create a process to strip police badges from officers who commit certain crimes or misconduct and impose new limits on qualified immunity for law enforcement. Black Caucus chairman Sen. Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, ran the bill last year but it did not come up for a vote on the final, chaotic and partly-virtual night of the legislative session.
- Assembly Bill 26, which author Asm. Chris Holden, D-Pasadena, calls the “George Floyd law” would require officers to intervene if they witness another officer using excessive force, and to report the use of force. It would also prohibit retaliation against reporting officers. Holden introduced a similar bill last year but it was held back without explanation.
- Assembly Bill 118 is another bill returning from 2020 — but this one was vetoed by Gov. Gavin Newsom. The CRISES Act would create pilot programs to allow community-based organizations to respond to 911 calls rather than police. Author Sen. Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles) says 70% of 911 calls are for nonviolent, noncriminal issues and could be handled by social workers or mental health professionals.
Kamlager said the governor returned the bill last year over concerns about housing the program in the Department of Emergency Services. This time, she hopes to house it in the state’s social services department.
- Assembly Bill 89, sponsored by Asm. Reggie Jones-Sawyer, would require new police officers to either have a bachelor’s degree or be at least 25 years old — the age many scientists believe the brain reaches full maturity. “We don’t allow 18-year-olds to drink,” the South Los Angeles Democrat said, but younger police are given a gun “and literally a license to kill.”
- Assemblymember Mike Gipson of LA County successfully ran a bill in 2020 to ban the carotid chokehold. Now he’s pushing to go further — Assembly Bill 490 would ban “positional asphyxia,” or any type of hold or restraint that compresses a person’s airway.
Gipson said the bill is motivated by the death of Angelo Quinto, a 30-year-old Antioch man who lost consciousness and died three days after police knelt on the back of his neck for five minutes. Quinto’s family has said the Navy veteran was suffering a mental health crisis and has filed a wrongful death claim.
- Assembly Bill 603 would require local governments to publish how much they spend annually on settlements stemming from police misconduct. “If the public knew how much money they're spending on police settlements, they demand more reform in their own cities,” said Asm. Kevin McCarty, (D-Sacramento). He says the Sacramento police and sheriff’s departments spent a combined $30 million on such payments last year.
- McCarty is also running Assembly Bill 594, which would bar police from investigating incidents of deadly force in their own departments. Instead, it would require all police killings to be investigated by a separate law enforcement agency, district attorney’s office or a dedicated task force. “We know that when police police themselves, there is not transparency and fairness,” the Sacramento Democrat said.
The proposal comes on the heels of a bill, authored by McCarty and signed into law last year, requiring the state Attorney General’s office to investigate police killings of unarmed civilians.
Many of the proposals are likely to hit resistance from police unions, a powerful lobbying force in the state Capitol. Though in a statement following the guilty verdict in Chauvin’s trial, the president of California’s largest police union indicated the group may support stricter measures to hold officers accountable.
“Today’s guilty verdict should be a wake-up call for the nation,” said Brian Marvel, president of the Peace Officers Research Association of California.
“It is time for America to adopt a national use of force standard, to mandate that all peace officers have a duty to intercede, to raise the bar for use of force training standards for all peace officers in every state across this country.” Marvel cited the “Stephon Clark law” passed in 2019 as an example.
Asked how a likely recall election against Newsom would impact his support for the legislation, Bradford said he was not worried.
“I would hope [a recall] would fortify the governor to do the right thing,” he said. “It’s a perfect time to be courageous, to be committed and double down on our efforts to move this legislation forward.”
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