In my April 6 column here on PJ Media, I mentioned the legislative effort in California to address police shootings and change the legal standard by which they are judged. Assembly Bill 931, bearing the Orwellian title of Police Accountability and Community Protection Act, would make it unlawful for a police officer to use deadly force unless it was “necessary.” It sounds reasonable, of course. After all, don’t we want police to refrain from shooting people unless it’s necessary?
But the question then arises: Necessary to whom? At their April 3 press conference introducing the legislation, the bill’s authors and other speakers made it clear. If a police officer’s use of deadly force is deemed to be unnecessary to them and to people who share their beliefs, that officer can expect to be prosecuted and, if not imprisoned, run through a years-long ordeal that will ruin him physically, emotionally, and financially. And this, they promise, will protect the community.
It will not.
In previous columns I have referred to the U.S. Supreme Court case of Graham v. Connor, which, along with Tennessee v. Garner, governs how any police use of force should be evaluated. For our purposes, the key passage of Graham is this: “The ‘reasonableness’ of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.” It bears reminding that the decision was written by then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist; there were no dissenting votes on the Court. In the world of the courts, this is as close as one gets to receiving the law at the top of Mount Sinai.
As of this writing, there is no text of AB 931 to be found on the Assembly’s website, but at their press conference we were informed that the utopians in the California State Assembly find the standard set forth in Graham to be unsatisfactory and thus now propose their own. Under ordinary circumstances, legislation that affects the police so significantly is drafted after consultation with organizations like the Police Officers Research Association of California. To date, no such consultation has occurred.
And it’s no wonder. Speaking at the press conference were of course the bill’s authors, Democrats Shirley Weber and Kevin McCarty, but they were joined by, among others, representatives from the ACLU and the Sacramento chapter of Black Lives Matter. Think of your own livelihood for a moment. How would you react if the rules governing your business were crafted by people who would prefer to see it shut down?
This is not to say police use of force should not be the topic of honest debate. But the bill’s authors and their supporters are being anything but honest in their representations. For example, Assemblyman Chris Holden (D-Pasadena) took to the microphone and invoked the name of Michael Brown, who was shot and killed by a Ferguson, Mo., police officer in 2014. Recall that it was Brown’s death that gave rise to the “Hands up, don’t shoot” myth, leading to days of rioting in Ferguson and St. Louis. Recall also that the Michael Brown shooting was perhaps the most scrutinized police incident in history, and that the involved officer was cleared by a St. Louis County grand jury — and even by Eric Holder’s own Justice Department.
Mr. Holden apparently feels, as do the others who spoke at the press conference, that had their proposed standard been in effect in Missouri at the time, the officer would instead have been convicted of a crime and sent to prison.
It is worth noting that Mr. Holden, like the bill’s two authors, has never held what most people would call a real job, having served in the city government of Pasadena for 24 years prior to his election to the Assembly. Kevin McCarty, too, has served in California state government all his adult life, and Shirley Weber was a professor of Africana Studies at San Diego State University prior to her own election. Despite these insular backgrounds, these people hold themselves as qualified to dictate tactics to California’s police officers.
When it comes to dishonesty, one hopes no one tries to exceed the mendacity Ms. Weber displayed in a recent interview on San Diego’s KUSI television. Appearing with reporter Ginger Jeffries, Weber flagrantly misrepresented the facts of the March 18 Stephon Clark police shooting in Sacramento (previously discussed here). “We see all of these shootings occurring,” said Weber, “and oftentimes the officer himself is not in imminent danger, but they have not employed any other strategy. And we saw this very vividly in the Sacramento case, where the officers were really behind the house, there was a helicopter, there was a young man in the backyard.”
So, Clark was just some “young man in the backyard,” not the suspect described in a radio call.
It got worse. “He didn’t know he was being chased,” she claimed. “The helicopter was following him.”
This is false. The officers were in uniform when they confronted Clark and told him to stop. He chose to run.
“Obviously there was some sort of pursuit going on,” said Ms. Jeffries. “Because most of the time what we’re seeing with these cases a shooting happens after a suspect is actually ignoring the commands of the police officer.”
“This is not the case,” said Weber. “ … There was a call that said there’s someone basically vandalizing cars, breaking out windows. This was not the man.”
This too is false, and very obviously so. Clark was the man reported to police, and deputies in a sheriff’s helicopter overhead saw him breaking the window of a home prior to the foot chase.
And Weber fancies herself as an expert on police tactics, too. “In this case, in Sacramento, it was not a split-second decision. [The officers] were behind the house. They had the opportunity to have conversation with the person, they could have had conversations from the helicopter, and none of that was done.”
To cite just one example of Weber’s ignorance, she supposes the officers were safe because they were “behind the house.” She is unaware, obviously, that stucco and drywall are not bulletproof, and that police officers have in fact been shot by people firing through walls. In the honest but mistaken belief Clark was armed, they faced a choice between two undesirable options. They could remain behind ineffective cover where the suspect knew them to be, or they could look around the corner to see if the suspect was advancing toward them.
And as it happened, Clark was advancing, though holding a cellphone and not a gun. As I argued before, it was a shooting that prosecutors will, when all the investigations are concluded, call “awful but lawful.”
But if Shirley Weber and her fellow travelers enact their law (it’s California — why wouldn’t it pass?), every perceived misstep an officer makes in a shooting incident will be viewed as grounds for prosecution, especially when the races of the involved parties are such that the incident attracts the attention of the grievance industry. The result will be ever fewer officers willing to risk a violent encounter that will be second-guessed by people ignorant of the dangers they face and motivated by politics rather than public safety.
The Police Accountability and Community Protection Act will advance neither. It should be smothered in its legislative cradle.