Measured Progress and A New Opportunity for Accountability

Every time we hear of another Black or Brown person taken away from our community it hurts, because many of us know it can be prevented, and we know no one will be held accountable.  Many of us want to protect our sisters, brothers, daughters, fathers, mothers, sons, grandparents and other loved ones from the very people who are sworn to keep us safe. Police in California kill almost 200 people every year, the majority of whom are people of color, and over 50% of them unarmed. This persistent and pervasive state violence is a violation of the public trust. 

The BLD PWR Initiative is committed to building people power to work towards undoing systemic oppression, and addressing police violence is high on that list. That is why we worked to support the passage of Assembly Bill AB 392 - The California Act to Save Lives. Although AB392 has now been signed into law, the original bill was changed drastically and does not go as far to protect the lives of those most impacted by police violence. Read more below to understand how the bill changed, and we invite you to continue to join us as we continue to hold space for imagining a world free from oppression and focus our advocacy efforts on strategic opportunities to transform the system. 

How We Got Here

Along with partners such as the  ACLU, the Let Us Live Coalition and others, BLD PWR Founder Kendrick Sampson traveled to Sacramento alongside families that have lost loved ones to police violence, grassroots organizations such as Black Lives Matter and others to rally support, meet with lawmakers and fight for radical legislation that seriously raised the standards of police conduct and use of deadly force. BLD PWR also engaged influencers to amplify the Let Us Live campaign through social media and participation in a pair of powerful PSA videos, featuring voices from entertainment, sports and music as well as grassroots leaders and family members that are directly impacted. 

As AB 392 advanced, the overwhelming data and passionate community support carried it through multiple committee hearings, despite attacks and detractions by law enforcement. The original language of the bill included radical language that held officers criminally liable for using deadly force when there were other alternatives, defined what a necessary use of force would mean as well as mandating de-escalation in police encounters. 

Eventually, the very powerful police union lobby and their influence with lawmakers created a very complex set of conditions in Sacramento, which led to significant changes in the language of the bill when it passed the Assembly. The bill is very likely to pass the State Senate and be signed into law, reportedly due to a deal forged by Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Though the compromised AB 392 is being celebrated as a victory, which changes the standards for law enforcement in California the fact is that the bill has significant changes. Most notably, the definition of “necessary” was removed, which effectively shifts responsibility to courts and prosecutors (who often rely on police to help them bring cases) to determine when an officer has used deadly force unnecessarily. This version of the bill lowers the likelihood that police will be held accountable for using deadly force, than its original intention. 

From the ACLU: What will AB 392 do now:

AB 392 will transform California from a state with one of the most permissive use of force laws to a state with one of the strongest laws in the country. The bill will:

  • Update California’s use of force laws to the “necessary” standard, which will require that officers won’t use deadly force unless necessary to defend against an imminent threat of harm to themselves or others.

  • The bill’s definition of imminent threat will limit the likelihood that officers can claim there was a need to use deadly force simply because a person refused to follow commands.

  • The bill makes clear that officers must use other resources and techniques to resolve situations without using deadly force.

  • Apply the “necessary” standard to criminal liability, meaning District Attorneys could find officers criminally liable if they use deadly force unnecessarily.

  • Ensure officers are accountable for their conduct leading up to a shooting.

  • Restrict when officers can use deadly force on someone fleeing arrest.

Source: ACLU SoCal

It is the tireless organizing of families, communities and advocates which generated the momentum necessary to support Assemblymember Shirley Weber’s courageous fight to make the law reflect the will of the people. BLD PWR knows the road to liberation has many lanes, and legislation and policy is only one of them.

The bill is a measured victory, in that it strengthens the opportunities for police who kill to be held accountable. However, this is just one small step forward, and it will be more necessary than ever to continue to support the powerful movement to radically transform our society to one where we see community safety as investing in housing, jobs, education and the environment, instead of pouring billions of dollars into violent, punitive and oppressive systems of policing and incarceration. Another example of policy reform on the road to liberation is Reform L.A. Jails, a 2020 county-wide ballot initiative to grant the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department Civilian Oversight Commission with subpoena power to effectively and independently investigate misconduct and to develop a plan to reduce jail populations and to redirect the cost savings into alternatives to incarceration. With Reform L.A. Jails and other efforts, the fight will continue. 

We are in this fight for the long haul, and we hope you are with us. Contact us if you are interested in learning more about how change happens with a BLD PWR training and click here to make a tax-deductible donation to support our efforts to build power. You can also support organizations doing this work on the front line every day: Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, Anti Police-Terror Project, Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice (CURYJ), California Families United 4 Justice, PICO California, STOP Coalition, Youth Justice Coalition.