After more than an hour of heated comments and testimony last week, the Senate Public Safety Committee voted to allow Assembly Bill 931 to proceed. AB 931 restricts police officers from using deadly force only when a life is at stake.
Assemblymember Shirley Weber (D-San Diego), one of the authors of the bill, said police legislation needed to be updated because they were currently working on a law that was written in 1872. She also presented some startling statistics. According to Weber, last year police killed 162 people in California and half of them were unarmed. California also led the nation in police killings.
Another person who testified in favor of AB 931 was Les Simmons, a pastor and member of Sacramento ACT. Simmons said he went to St. Louis, Mo. to minister to the people after Michael Brown was killed in 2014, only to see the same kind of thing was happening in his town. Simmons said that he used to be a police chaplain, but he had to quit that role. “I can no longer be a chaplain to a faulty system,” he said.
About 30 minutes of the hearing was taken up by testimony from people supporting AB 931. Several people who gave testimony were family members of people killed by police officers. Supporters also included representatives from the National Action Network (NAN,) the ACLU, Amnesty International, the NAACP and the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR).
Several members of law enforcement organizations, such as the California Peace Officers’ Association, also testified against AB 931. They claimed that the legislation could put officers’ lives in danger and open them up to liability.
David P. Mastagni, use of force expert representing the California Peace Officers’ Association, said that SB 931 might be unconstitutional because it prevents officers from the right to self-defense. “This puts officers at danger and the public at danger,” he said. He added that any legislation on police use of force should be handled at the local level.
Sen. Jeff Stone (R-Temecula) also said he couldn’t support the bill. He suggested that if officers feared they may be held liable for shootings, it would only reduce the number of applicants for police positions. He also said that police needed additional training in de-escalation techniques and recommend that people “respect police officers and obey commands.”
However, Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara,) said she was concerned about the number of Californians being killed by police officers and Black families who worry about their children coming home. She supported the bill and added police need to have better training on how to deal with suspects. “It’s going to force us to put more money into (police) training,” she said.
Sen. Steve Bradford (D-Gardena), one of the principal co-authors of the bill, said AB 931 was a small solution to a more significant problem. He said the real problem was police attitudes to people of color. “Black and Brown people don’t ever get to go to jail,” he said. “We don’t have a law enforcement problem, we have a problem with racism in this country.”
AB 931 now proceeds to the Senate Appropriations Committee and if approved, will go to the Senate floor for a full vote.
Header photo: Assembly member Shirley Weber (D – San Diego) makes a statement about the ruling.