For anyone who thought that police use of force would wane after the riotous year of BLM protests in the recent past, the discouraging news is that these incidents are on the rise. Across the country in general, and in California specifically, documented cases of police use of force are on the rise. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), emergency room visits following police interactions have exceeded 400,000 throughout the United States in the past. Lethal force is particularly worrisome—with over 1,000 fatal police shootings in California in 2020 alone. Another unsurprising fact: these kinds of things happen most frequently in Black and brown communities, according to research.
California Law on Lethal Force
According to recent California law, lethal force is justifiable only in cases where human life is being protected. This is in contrast to the previous law allowing lethal force whenever an officer deemed it reasonable. Even so, case after case of police shootings continue to destroy families and neighborhoods. However, in some cases, officers are not getting off scot-free. A deputy in San Diego recently faced charges of second-degree murder, while an officer from San Leandro was looking at manslaughter charges, both a result of excessive use of force.
So, it seems our strict use-of-force laws are making a difference—though not eliminating the problem. Perhaps that is because officer training is very inconsistent across California. While some departments require that officers take a two-hour course, others have condensed the training down to 14 minutes in front of a video and being handed a memo. And many officers have received no training at all on the new law yet—and San Diego officers are sorely behind in the training.
A San Diego Story
One San Diego story is a tragic one. A 36-year-old who loved the environment and animals suffered from a mental illness that made him easily frustrated. To escape the pressure of difficult situations, he started running away as a toddler, and the pattern of behavior continued throughout his school years and into adulthood. In multiple situations, he ran from the police. When confronted by a park ranger for having his dog off-leash one afternoon, he fled. Ultimately the ranger and a backup officer found him, and he was tased and put under arrest due to his resistance and because he held a golf club that appeared to be held as a weapon. Cuffed and in the back of the squad car, the man managed to free one of his hands, open the door, and run. Though several officers on the scene believed he was not a threat, one officer shot the fugitive four times, resulting in his death later in the hospital.
When it Comes to Race…
Who is most likely to suffer police use of force? Black individuals are on the receiving end of such tactics in four of ten cases, despite the fact they make up only about one-tenth of the population. Conversely, whites experience police use of force in less than one-third of incidents, despite making up over 40% of the population. Continue reading