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New Law Makes It Harder for California’s Cops to Get Away with Killing People

by Douglas Ankney

Beginning January 1, 2020, cops in California will be allowed to use deadly force only when the “officer reasonably believes ... that deadly force is necessary to defend against an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury.”

The law was inspired by the 2018 shooting of Stephon Clark, an unarmed black father of two killed by police in his grandparents’ backyard when officers claimed they mistook his cellphone for a gun.

Under the new law, if investigators determine that an officer used lethal force when there was a reasonable alternative, the officer could face criminal charges, civil liability, and disciplinary action. Current law across the country permits use of force if it is “objectively reasonable,” which civil rights advocates and families of people murdered by police criticize as being a standard that is too low.

Peter Bibring, director of police practices at the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, said, “We expect this legislation to save lives.”

But Melina Abdullah, leader of the Los Angeles chapter of Black Lives Matter, said, “Unfortunately, in efforts to get law enforcement to lift their opposition, the bill was so significantly amended that it is no longer the kind of meaningful legislation we can support.”

Law enforcement unions had vigorously opposed the bill, prompting amendments to remove requirements for police to de-escalate tensions when interacting with the public. 



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