Stephon Clark’s family wants supporters to back new bill on police use of force
California – The family of Stephon Clark are angry over the decision not to charge the police officers who shot and killed him last year.
But they’re also clear about what they want their supporters to do next: Support the passage of a new bill that would ensure no other California family has to suffer the same fate.
In a statement released Saturday on behalf of the Clark family, a close family friend called for supporters to advocate for the passage of Assembly Bill 392, which would change police use of force policies and require officers to attempt de-escalation prior to using lethal force.
“Stephon would be alive today if the officers had followed this policy,” Jamilia Land, who’s also a member of the California Families United for Justice, said in the statement.
“So would Mario Woods and Oscar Grant and Alex Neito and Sahleem Tindle and Willie McCoy and far too many others, mostly young men of color,” Land added, referring other some of the people who have been shot and killed by police in recent years.
Clark, who was black, was killed last year after Sacramento officers responded to a report that a man had broken car windows and was hiding in a backyard. Officers ultimately chased Clark into his grandmother’s backyard, where they told him to stop.
He was about 30 feet away when officers fired, prosecutors said Saturday. He was unarmed.
What the bill does
AB 392, also known as the California Act to Save Lives, is California Assemblymember Shirley Weber’s latest effort to curb deadly shootings involving the police.
Weber began addressing the issue before Clark’s death, last year, and she’s written similar bills in past state legislative sessions, but they didn’t pass the legislature to become law.
Current law in California says deadly force by an officer is justifiable if a suspect has committed a felony and is fleeing or resisting arrest, according to a legislative digest of AB 392, and that such action is reasonable.
Weber’s bill would change that. In a press conference last month, Weber explained AB 392 would “authorize officers to use deadly force only when it is necessary to prevent imminent and serious bodily injury or death.”
Using deadly force against a fleeing suspect would only be justifiable in the officer’s self-defense or the defense of another person if the officer believes the suspect will harm someone else unless stopped.
Under the law, Weber said, officers would only be permitted to use deadly force if there is no “reasonable alternative,” like verbal warnings or other methods of non-lethal force. It would also take into account officers’ actions leading up to the fatal shooting.
Weber’s past bill did not receive support from the police. But the California Police Chiefs Association and the Peace Officers Research Association of California have backed another bill addressing the use of force Senate this session.
That bill, SB 230, would also stress de-escalation and focus on additional training for police, according to its author.
‘A matter of life or death’
AB 392 is also backed by the American Civil Liberties Union, which claimed California’s current laws on use-of-force “fail to protect against unnecessary killings by police officers.”
Lizzie Buchen, the ACLU of Northern California’s legislative advocate, wrote last month that AB 392 is a “common-sense bill” based on practices that she said are proven to reduce killings by police.
“We stand with the Clark family in calling on California legislators to act now to prevent more of these deadly tragedies — and subsequent miscarriages of justice — from happening,” the ACLU said Saturday in response to the decision not to charge the officers who killed Clark.
“AB 392 offers a clear path forward,” the statement said, adding, “AB 392 is a matter of life or death.”
Clark’s fiancée and the mother of his children, Salena Manni, pleaded with supporters to push for change at a press conference Saturday.
“Please don’t stop advocating for legislation and policies that would protect other families from suffering this overwhelming pain and immense sense of loss,” Manni said.