Being a Police Officer In California Will Become More Dangerous
Two California state lawmakers have proposed a new bill that will change the standard of “reasonable force” after a 22-year-old man was shot to death by local police.
The two members of Assembly have brought the bill forward in the wake of the death of Stephon Clark, who was under suspicion of pointing a gun at two officers during a night time investigation when he was shot eight times on his family’s lawn.
If passed, the legislation will change centuries of legal precedent by changing the standard of “reasonable force” to a rule that allows officers to only use “necessary force.”
The two co-authors believe that the legislation will instead urge officers to de-escalate situations before using lethal weapons on suspects.
The bill is co-authored by Shirley Weber and Kevin McCarty who are both in the California State Assembly’s Democratic Black Caucus.
Assemblywoman Shirley Weber
Born in Arkansas, the 62-year-old Shirley Weber was raised in Los Angeles. She graduated from the University of California with three degrees, ending with a Ph.D in communication by 1975. She went on to teach at San Diego State University for 40 years in the Africana Studies Department. Classes offered in this Department include:
- Black Women: Myth and Reality
- Africana Class, Gender and Sexualities
After moving on to the Board of Education in San Diego in 1988, she ran for the House of Assembly in 2012 and won on a platform which prioritized education.
According to Weber,
“We need to ensure that our state policy governing the use of deadly force stresses the sanctity of human life and is only used when necessary.”
Assemblyman Kevin McCarty
With degrees from California State University, Kevin McCarty, 46, has been involved in local Sacramento politics since 2004 and was elected to the Assembly in 2014. His focus areas are rental housing, after school programs and gun control.
Shooting of Stephon Clark
On March 18th, 2018, Stephon Clark was confronted by two members of the Sacramento Police Department. The two officers were actively looking for a suspect who was reported to have been breaking car windows in the neighborhood. The officers found Clark at 9:30pm local time in the yard of his grandmother’s house, where he lived. The police believed he was responsible for breaking windows. The officers reported that they fired 20 rounds and shot Clark after they believed that Clark had pointed a gun at them. After his death, Clark was found to only be carrying a mobile phone. The autopsy concluded that Clark had been shot six times in the back and two times in the front. Right now, the two officers involved are on paid leave. Clark, 22, leaves two sons ages 1 and 3.
This video is an interview with a retired police officer, now a professor of criminal justice, giving his thoughts on the body cam footage that was taken of the incident.
What is ‘Reasonable’ and ‘Necessary’ in Law?
According to Wex Legal Dictionary operated by Cornell’s Law School,
“[Reasonable means] just, rational, appropriate, ordinary or usual in the circumstances. It may refer to care, cause, compensation, doubt (in a criminal trial), and a host of other actions or activities.”
Further, necessary in common English means that it something is an absolute requirement. For example, it’s reasonable to wear a mouth guard if you’re playing football, but not necessary. But, it’s not just reasonable to have a pigskin in order to play football, but it’s a necessary condition.
The proposed legislation seeks to switch from “reasonable force” to “necessary force.”
I’m no lawyer, but I can see the difficulties: It can be reasonable to shoot a suspect because any person in the shoes of the officer would assume that the suspect will shoot first. But when is it really necessary to shoot someone?
Even if the bill passes through, it will never stand in a court of law in the real world. It’s just too vague, and every officer would be smart to quit before being asked to live up to such unreasonable expectations.
Sources: The Hill, Yahoo, Huffington Post, Wikipedia