The California legislature has been batting around Assembly Bill 392 for most of the year without getting across the finish line. The legislation was crafted in response to “deadly shootings of unarmed black men” in the state and it had originally been billed as one of the toughest use of force laws regulating police activity in the country. But negotiations with law enforcement officials resulted in some changes being made to the language (without which it wouldn’t have passed) and activists are saying it’s too watered down to be effective. (Including some complaints from a very curious choice of people to represent the families of suspects who were killed by the police, but we’ll get back to that in a moment.) That didn’t stop the Governor from signing it anyway. (CBS San Francisco)
On Monday Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a landmark bill that was once described as one of the toughest police use-of-force standard in the country, but some believe the law is watered down from its original version.
“The bill they have today, what they signed today, wouldn’t have prevented our loved ones from being killed,” said Rosie Chavez…
Surrounded by relatives of people killed in police shootings, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed AB392 at a ceremony in Sacramento on August 19, 2019. (CBS)”It was very important that a reasonable standard remained for us, that’s what’s in this bill, it supports what’s already in law,” said San Jose Police Officer Association Vice President Sean Pritchard.
The original bill was of great concern because it changed the definition of when an officer could employ potentially deadly force during an encounter with a suspect. The bill’s authors wanted to have it say that deadly force can only be used when “necessary” rather than “reasonable.” It had also included language saying that the officer would have to be able to show that they had “exhausted all other measures” before resorting to deadly force.
That would have hamstrung the police even further. Cops don’t put on their uniforms in the morning hoping to go out and shoot somebody. That’s a course of last resort. But when things get out of hand and it looks like their own lives or the lives of nearby civilians are at risk, split-second decisions have to be made. The more of these rules we put on the books, the less inclined police will be to get out of their squad cars and investigate crimes. Fortunately, all of that language was scrapped and this bill turned out to be little more than word salad, changing almost nothing while allowing the Governor and the legislature to look like they were doing something.
I want to return for a moment to the original announcement of the new law. You’ll notice that the press sought out Rosie Chavez for a quote. She complained that the new law “wouldn’t have prevented our loved ones from being killed.”
While I’m sure we can all sympathize with anyone who has lost a family member, the death that brought Chavez to this fight really shouldn’t be invoked. She was the aunt of Jacob Dominguez, who was shot and killed by police in September of 2017. That might lead you to believe that excessive use of force by the police was in play. Allow me to assure you that it was not.
You can read about the circumstances of Dominguez’ death here. This wasn’t somebody who randomly encountered some “killer cops” or who had been pulled over in an instance of “driving while black.” The cops had been on a manhunt for Dominguez for the better part of a week following what they described as a ten-day crime spree. He was driving a stolen Mercedes-Benz. He’d been caught on camera robbing a gas station with a .357 handgun. He’d been identified pulling off a drive-by shooting. This guy was a menace and the cops were desperately trying to find him and put an end to the violence.
When they finally pulled him over, he was instructed to keep his hands visible and exit the vehicle. How did he respond? By shouting, “(Expletive) you, bitch! Shoot me!” He then lunged toward the floorboards of the car with his hands. At that point, the police accommodated his request.
The fact is, there comes a point where you’re simply begging the cops to kill you (in this case, literally) and giving them every excuse in the world for doing so. The cops still hadn’t recovered his handgun when they caught up to him and for all they knew he was reaching down to grab it. Is this really the poster child you want to hold up as the face of the need to reform police use of lethal force? Not for nothing, but I think there were better candidates out there.