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California lawmakers approve police use-of-force bill
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California lawmakers approve police use-of-force bill

The California state Assembly on Wednesday approved a police use-of-force bill that could give the state one of the strictest standards for justifying the use of deadly force by police officers. However, days before the passage of the bill, key concessions were made to appease law enforcement, which have caused some of the bill’s original activist proponents to drop their support.

The bill in its original form was opposed by law enforcement for raising the standard for a justified use of deadly force, so that under the new bill only a “necessary” use of such force would be justified rather than simply a “reasonable” one. They withdrew their opposition after two changes to the bill were made. Requirements for de-escalation by police officers were removed. The bill’s definition of “necessary” was also removed, leaving it up to a judge in a future case to decide where the line is drawn when considering whether a particular officer’s use of force was “necessary.”

Activist groups such as Black Lives Matter Los Angeles and individuals related to victims of police violence withdrew their support for the bill based on these changes, especially the newfound vagueness of the term “necessary.” They point out that this intentional reduction in specificity will make necessary another “test case” to figure out the extent of power California’s judges actually want to give the bill, which will inevitably fall short of what was intended by the people who supported it in the first place.

Activist Laurie Valdez, whose partner was killed by San Jose State police in 2014, stated, “Another person is going to have to die before we can prove that this bill is not going to do what you think it’s going to do” and that the changes made felt like “a slap in our face.”

Some legal experts believe that the complaints over the changes are unfounded. According to Robert Weisberg of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center, “The notion that we would write a law that would not require scrutiny and judicial determination is complete fantasy.” This sentiment seems, however, to ignore the activists’ actual and specific concerns about the desirability or necessity of the particular expansion of the judiciary’s power of interpretation which has been amended into the bill.

Other individuals and organizations working with families of victims are maintaining their support for the revised bill. Stevante Clark, whose brother was killed by Sacramento Police in 2018, opined that while the bill is “a little watered-down with the changes that were made”, it still represents a step forward for California and that, “Slow progress is better than no progress.”