The California Act to Save Lives, AB 392, cleared its first hurdle at the State Capitol. The Assembly Public Safety Committee voted 5-2 in favor of the legislation which is now headed to the Rules Committee for review.
Authored by Assemblymember Shirley Weber (D-San Diego), the legislation aims to restrict the use of deadly force by police officers, which has ended the lives of more African Americans and Latinos in California than any other state in the nation. In 2017 alone, cops in California killed 172 civilians. Of that number, Latinos made up a disproportionate 47.1 percent and Blacks accounted for 15.1 percent.
Weber says her goal for introducing the bill, which has drawn wide and vocal opposition from police unions and law enforcement support groups, is to change the culture of policing in California and prioritize the sanctity of human life – not to victimize law enforcement.
“This bill does not in any way put any officer at harm. That is not the intent,” said Weber. “It is written to address the critical issues we’ve faced in this nation for over 400 years: how we treat others who don’t look like us. This bill strikes a balance.”
Advocates of AB 392 from across the state - many of them social justice activists along with friends and family members of people injured or killed by police - came to Sacramento to witness the process and express their support. They filled the gallery of the Jesse Unruh room in the State Capitol and packed onto the main floor of the Assembly, many eyes full of tears as the moment called up memories of their loved ones.
“I think AB 392 is a necessary bill that needs to be passed. It will help preserve life,” said Ciara Hamilton whose first cousin Diante Yarber was fatally shot in 2018 by four police officers in Barstow. “If any officer goes outside of de-escalation tactics, they would face criminal charges. I think that is equal, fair and just plain common sense.”
Hamilton said she attended the rally on behalf of Yarber and his three daughters.
AB 392 calls for redefining the state’s existing legal measure of “reasonable” force, replacing it with the word “necessary.” Officers would only be allowed to use deadly force if there is no other option. It would also amend the California Penal Code regarding “justifiable homicides” by “peace officers,” opening cops up to more civil and criminal charges for killing citizens.
Weber and the bill’s co-author Assemblymember Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) say they studied data from other cities that employ similar police de-escalation tactics to prevent homicides and injuries. That information helped to inform the language, spirit and structuring of the bill. If passed, AB-392 would become the first law in the country to regulate police officers’ use of deadly force.
Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), chairman of the Public Safety Committee, presided over the meeting where Californians from all walks of life stepped up to the microphone to mostly affirm their support for AB 392. Only about a dozen people spoke up publicly against the bill.
“I have never met people more hurt than those who are in this audience,” Weber said. “It has made me keenly aware just how deep and hard the pain is when people don’t believe there is fairness and justice.”
As it makes its way through the legislature, AB 392 will likely face resistance already gathering from civic and political groups. Police unions across the state believe that the bill will put members of law enforcement at a disadvantage and place their lives in harm’s way.
“Anything that changes the word ‘reasonable’ is unreasonable,” said Assemblymember Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale) who spoke against the bill during the hearing and voted against it in committee.
Lackey, a former California Highway Patrol officer for nearly 30 years, posted on Twitter that he believes proponents of AB 392 don’t have a malicious intent in crafting the legislation. He insists, however, that it would be harmful to peace officers.
“If #AB392 becomes law,” he tweeted. “More cops will unfortunately die. This is an undeniable fact.”
The committee hearing concluded two days of activities and advocacy ramping up to the big day. A march and rally Monday hosted by the American Civil Liberties Union of California was the highlight.
Family members of some of California’s most controversial and widely remembered victims of police violence – Oscar Grant, Sahleem Tindle, Mikel McIntyre, David Garcia, Stephon Clark, among many others – attended the rally held on the north steps of the State Capitol.