Life and Death Legislation

A Speech given on June 21, 2018 by Cat Brooks

Oscar Grant Sahleem Tindle Stephon Clark Yuvette Henderson Guadalupe Ochoa Alex Nieto Luis Gongora Pat Jessica Williams Nate Perkins Pedie Perez Jesus Adolfo Delgado Duarte

These are the names of just a few of the families I have worked with over the last decade of doing this work.

I am the co-founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project and the Executive Director of the Justice Teams Network.  My mission in life is to end state-sanctioned violence in our communities.

Some of the people mentioned above had weapons.  Most of them did not. I mention that because I want you to compare that list to the Waffle House Shooter, the Parkland Shooter, The Charleston Shooter – the list goes on.  These are white men with guns who kill people and are taken to jail alive.

The disparities with which law enforcement treats Black and Brown life vs. white life is not merely rhetoric.  It is reflected in mountains of data. It manifests in rage on the streets. And it is evidenced by the thousands of families that are members of an exclusive club that no one wants to join.

What has long been missing from the conversation about police violence is accountability. People in the field call it state-sanctioned violence. We call it that because save for the very rare exception, no one is ever held accountable for these crimes.  If any of you or I shot someone who was unarmed in the back, we would go to jail. If we shot someone with a cell phone in their backyard, we would go to jail. If we shot someone running away from us, we would go to jail.

It is a reasonable and rational question to ask why law enforcement is allowed to kill with impunity.  Repeatedly.

In working with families that are survivors of state violence, I have noticed a pattern in how they respond:

  • First the conversation, like for many of us who experience great and unexpected tragedy, the question is why.  Why did this happen to my baby, mother, father, partner?
  • The conversation quickly evolves into how and who.  How did this happen and who did it. They want answers.  They want to know what occurred in the last moments of their loved ones life.
  • My answer is usually the same.  You can’t have that information. You can’t have that information because police officers are protected by several laws and contracts that make that information inaccessible.

From the Police Officers Bill of Rights to the Copley Decision to MOUs negotiated by police unions, law enforcement officers have an ironclad blue wall that prevents them from being held accountable – even when they are negligent, when they rape or when they kill.

Here are a couple examples of laws that protect police that no one in the general public has:

  • When officers are investigated by their department, they must be informed in advance that they will be interrogated, what it is about and who will interrogate them otherwise the information can be suppressed
  • Officers shall not be subjected to offensive language or threatened with punitive action.
  • No confidential reports may be entered into an officers personnel file
  • And, thanks to Copely, their personnel files are entirely concealed from the public

For well over a hundred years, law enforcement agencies have demonstrated to us that they cannot or will not regulate themselves.

All social progress in the history of the United States required radical legislation that complemented the movement. From the emancipation of slaves to the Civil Rights Act. Legislation in the fact of hostile insistence to hang on to the status quo has been critical for social progress.

And we are seeing movement at the local and state levels towards policies that will ultimately impact practice for the greater good.

At the local level, communities are demanding more accountability and transparency from union contracts as well as a reduction in the overspending on police departments when those funds could go to things that actually keep people safe like education, jobs, and mental health services.

And here in Sacramento, landmark legislation is moving that if passed will go a long way to both ensuring accountability in law enforcement, and also saving lives.

SB 1421 by Senator Skinner would ensure that for confirmed cases of sexual misconduct or excessive uses of force, communities and families would learn critical information about who is patrolling our communities and how/why someone was harmed. We would know if there was a pattern of egregious behavior on the part of officers, we would know what events lead up to the death of our community members, we would know why criminal charges are not being filed.  More importantly – families would know and this would go a long way in terms of having closure. Right now, bad actors in law enforcement simply bounce from one department to the next … quietly. Example: Miguel Masso of the Oakland Police Department shot and killed unarmed 17 year-old Alan Blueford. He even went so far as to lie and say that Alan shot him first. It was later deemed that he shot himself in the foot AFTER he shot Alan in the back. After ongoing community pressure, Masso was transferred to another department in California when after about a year, Alan’s mother got a phone call from a woman whose elderly father had been brutally beaten by Masso.  She didn’t learn about his history from public records. She learned about it because of the community organizing we did. That community had a right to know that a killer was coming their way. Also in Oakland, Celeste Guap was raped and trafficked by over 14 officers – we know from inside sources – this was not the first time for many of them and she was not the only one.

AB 931 by Assemblymember Weber is literally a bill about life and death.  Right now, every time law enforcement kills someone, you hear the same rhetoric “I was afraid for my life” “she was reaching for something” “I thought it was a gun”. These excuses for lethal use of force should be not and are not an acceptable response to killing people.  Law Enforcement are supposed to be public servants and they are public servants that are entrusted with guns and Tasers. They are supposed to be held to a higher standard. They are supposed to only use that force when there is literally no other option at all. That is what AB 931 would do. It would change the legal standard that law enforcement can use to kill people.  It would demand that they use time, space and de-escalation techniques before pulling a trigger. It is what they did with the Parkland Shooter, The Waffle House Shooter, and Dylan Roof. It is what they do with countless armed white suspects across the state. And it what they should do with everyone. Yuvette Henderson was killed within 7 seconds of police arriving on the scene.  Tamir Rice was killed within 2 seconds of police arriving at the scene. Seconds is not enough time to determine whether or not a life should be taken.

Yes, legislation like this will ruffle feathers. People prefer the status quo. Laws to integrate ruffled feathers.  People liked the status quo. But the status quo is killing people.  Ultimately these kinds of legislative moves are good for police and community; transparency builds trust and accountability improves community relations and cleans up departments.