The story of Stephon Clark has been heard around the world. Unarmed and on his grandmother’s property, Clark was shot eight times and killed one night in Sacramento. The police mistook the glow on his cell phone for the muzzle flash of a gun. In March the County District Attorney and the State Attorney General declined to prosecute the officers, causing massive protest demonstrations for days.
California’s History of Use of Deadly Force
For 147 years, California use of deadly force statutes have allowed police officers to use deadly force when arresting persons charged with felonies and who are fleeing from justice or resisting arrest. In 1989, the statute was replaced by a U.S. Supreme Court decision that held that lethal use of force is justified against a suspect if a “reasonable” police officer would have acted the same way in a similar situation. The change, however, was not codified.
Under a Bill before the State Assembly, that threshold would rise. A police officer would be justified in using lethal force only if it were determined to be “necessary” to defend against imminent death or severe harm. Unsurprisingly, California law enforcement organizations are campaigning to codify the 1989 standard, stressing that suspects should cooperate, then complain.
For the past year, criminal justice reforms in California have entered into effect at whiplash speeds. From eliminating cash bail to suspending the death penalty, the reforms have been first in the nation and an attempt to look at who gets most impacted by the enforcement of the state’s laws, the poor, and minorities.
Increasingly, law enforcement’s stance on the issue is losing credibility. With the advent of police cameras, street cameras, and even bystander cameras, many questionably deadly shootings have been dissected to the point that even when suspects cooperate and do not complain, they lose their lives.
The bill is not cheap. To support the aims, training specifically on how to de-escalate a police incident would need to be provided to California’s approximately 500 law enforcement agencies with thousands of personnel statewide.
Community policing will continue to be under scrutiny when the same individuals get targeted for apprehension on minor infractions and end up dead at the end of the encounter. To become law, the Bill has to be passed by the state Senate and signed by the Governor. Continue reading