Stephon Clark. Jontell Reedom. Ronnell Foster. Timothy Breckenridge. Manuel Borrego.
The list goes on. And on. And on.
Law enforcement’s use of lethal force has been a polarizing question for years. The nation fought in 2012 over whether a reserve officer was permitted to shoot and kill Trayvon Martin, a black 17-year-old high school student from Miami Gardens, Florida. The conversations began anew in 2014 when a New York Police Department officer choked and killed Eric Garner, a 43-year-old man .
The debate still continues in 2018. Police officers have shot and killed 317 people since the start of this year, according to The Washington Post.
California contributed 37 names to that list – more than any other state.
Assembly member Shirley Weber has answered that call with Assembly Bill 931, which would permit police to only use deadly force when necessary. This is a notable shift from the current policy of officials being able to use deadly force when “reasonable,” and would encourage officers to defuse confrontations or use less deadly weapons.
The changes prescribed in this bill are long overdue. As of last week, there have been 20 more fatal shootings nationwide by police compared to this time last year. And California has an inglorious history of police brutality and strained law enforcement relations with the community. AB 931 makes necessary changes to slowly tackle the dark stain of unnecessary death at the hands of law enforcement.
Weber’s bill follows the killing of Clark, an unarmed 23-year-old black man, by Sacramento police in mid-March. An independent autopsy found he was shot eight times, mostly in the back, in his grandmother’s backyard. Clark’s death sparked a wave of mass protests from civil rights advocates calling for an end to police violence against unarmed suspects.
The debate over police use of deadly police force has been all the more relevant in Los Angeles, where just in the last four months, eight people have been shot by on-duty Los Angeles Police Department officers, according to the Los Angeles Times. Six of those eight died because of their wounds.
The issue has even touched the greater UCLA community: The city of Los Angeles recently settled a lawsuit for $3.9 million brought forward by the parents of a patient shot and killed by LAPD officers at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in December 2015.
California has long been at the center of the national debate over law enforcement’s reliance on lethal force. And for decades, the trend of people dying – oftentimes meaninglessly – at the hands of law enforcement has persisted. The state legislature doesn’t just have a moral obligation to pass AB 931, but also a responsibility to.
Of course, law enforcement groups have criticized the bill, arguing it would cause officers to second-guess their decisions in the field, potentially endangering the public and leading to an increase in crime.
But we’re far past the point of fearmongering. There has been a seemingly unending number of cases in which deadly force was used when unnecessary. If an officer truly fears for their life when they fire their weapon, they can make their case in court, as they have done in recent years under the current standard.
California has seen enough “split-second decisions” and “mistakes” by police officers. The use of deadly force is only reasonable when it is absolutely necessary to use it. It’s time law enforcement caught onto that idea.