Sarah Grace Goolden
Assembly Bill 392 was passed in the senate this July. It proposes to change the way the law describes acceptable police force in California. Currently, shooting to kill is appropriate if deemed ‘reasonable.’ If another ‘reasonable’ officer would have made the same decision, they are legally not in the wrong.
The new bill requires officers to have exhausted all other alternatives in a conflict and fear for the immediate safety of themselves and others. It also holds officers who acted irrationally responsible, such as being fired for misconduct and/or charged with manslaughter. This is to protect all persons involved and hopefully reduce the amount of unarmed civilian death.
The problem with the word ‘reasonable’ is that it is so open to interpretation. Of course, law specifically uses vague terms but who is to say one action or one person is reasonable? If there is a systematic problem within law enforcement, who is to say we should be using their justification as a standard?
‘Necessary’ is also vague, but offers a little more substance to the definition. It alludes to a more serious situation, which, without action, might have led to the injury or death of that officer or civilians. What might be disregarded as semantics is actually a way to preemptively outline what is acceptable force and to hold negligent officers responsible if they do not comply.
The amount of police brutality cases have led some to label police officers as trigger-happy. In situations where the victim wasn’t armed, one has to wonder if the officer really was in danger. Of course, law enforcement officers are in dangerous situations all the time, and are forced to make split-second decisions.
Those who go into these careers have to prepare themselves for situations where their safety could be compromised. While police officers main goal is to protect the people, they also have to worry about their own welfare. The recurring problem with that is situations in which an officers life or safety was not in danger and still used unnecessary force against the victim.
This bill comes at a time where a lot of people do not trust law enforcement. According to Gallup, U.S. confidence in police is the lowest it’s been in 22 years. Incidences of police brutality have rightfully enraged the nation. We see examples perpetuating these atrocities on the news constantly. The Black Lives Matter movement rally for justice and prevention.
Citizens should not be scared of law enforcement. Unarmed and non-violent black men should not be scared that they’re going to be the next person on the news, slain by the hands of a cop with a God complex. To justify the death of someone minding their own business as ‘reasonable’ is a disservice to both victims and those living in fear. Good people should not be scared of being murdered by a system that is supposed to protect us. If law enforcement is only protecting some of us, it’s doing the opposite of its objective.
Philandro Castile’s death was not ‘necessary.’ Eric Garner’s death was not ‘reasonable.’ It’s the same story happening over and over again: unarmed black man shot by police officer. Unarmed black men are not inherently a threat. How do we fix a problem that seems to be less with an individual and more the result of stereotypes and misinformation?
There are multiple options before pulling out a gun. A separate bill, SB 230, wants to re-educate departments on non-lethal alternatives and de-escalation techniques. Holding officers responsible for their crimes is vital and sends a message to other officers, as well as to the public that the U.S. justice system is listening. However, in an ideal world, we would be preventing these tragedies, not avenging them.
Changing the way we legally talk about police force could result in actual, sustainable change. The only way to fight against police brutality is to effectively train law enforcement officers and hold negligent ones responsible. The way to achieve this is through tangible legal change.