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California Gov. Gavin Newsom, left, greets Assemblymember Shirley Weber after he delivered his State of the State speech at the California Legislature at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., on February 19, 2020. (Daniel Kim/Sacramento Bee/Zuma Press/TNS)

SACRAMENTO – A year ago, California passed one of the strictest policies in the nation on the use of deadly force by police.

After a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on George Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes, the author of the measure says his death shows more must be done.

Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, a Democrat who wrote the use-of-force law, said in a news conference this week that such incidents remind her that black Americans are "still mistreated, still disrespected" by a nation that has "taught itself to hate African Americans."

"It has taught others that we are inhuman." Weber said. "Not only just in people's everyday lives, but in the way this country was structured, the laws that were written ... ."

Weber has spent the bulk of her eight years in the Legislature making changes to California's criminal justice system, an effort that peaked last year with the passage of Assembly Bill 392.

But protests over Floyd's death and the ongoing national conversation over police brutality has activists and Democrats demanding more. AB 392 was a great starting point, they say, but it's not the finish line.

Members of the California Legislative Black Caucus laid out their priorities for the year this week. They include capping parole periods, reparations for descendants of slaves and repealing elements of Proposition 209, the 1996 ballot measure that banned affirmative action.

"We can't tinker around the edges any more. We have to do something dramatic and important," Weber told The Sacramento Bee Editorial Board on Thursday. "We're a state that's majority ethnic, and it should be reflected in everything we do ... We need affirmative action in California again to give people hope."

James Burch, policy director for the Anti Police-Terror Project, said both AB 392 and the protests have paved the way for more ambitious proposals, like his organization's advocacy for taking money from police organizations to instead fund community organizations skilled in mental health crisis intervention.

"It is a shifting political moment," Burch said. "Whereas a lot of legislators did not have an appetite for real change to law enforcement even a month ago, things have changed dramatically now."

California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the use-of-force law last August, following a rocky battle between advocates and law enforcement unions that eventually ended with bipartisan support for the bill.

The new law shifted California's deadly force standard from "reasonable" to "necessary" based on the totality of circumstances a police officer faces in certain situations. Although a seemingly minor change, advocates said the elevated rule would save lives by requiring police to use deescalation strategies before they employ deadly force.

The law was inspired by the long list of black and brown people killed by police in America, including Stephon Clark, a 22-year-old from Sacramento shot to death in March 2018 by police who mistook his cellphone for a gun.

Training is now underway. At least 7,000 officers have taken a two-hour course on the law's requirements through programs provided by the state's Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training. More than 13,000 officers have also viewed an informational video on the new law, spokeswoman Meagan Catafi said.

By August, the commission is expected to publish revised use-of-force guidelines as a model for departments to use when updating their policies. Agencies will then have four months to rewrite their rules by a Jan. 1 deadline.

The measure to repeal Proposition 209, ACA 5, was introduced in January, before the pandemic swept through the Capitol and the George Floyd protests began. Since his death, it has cleared two Assembly committees, and Weber is now working to secure the 54 votes she needs to win approval from the full house.

Should it pass the Legislature, California voters will consider whether it's time to allow consideration of race, ethnicity or gender preferences in hiring, college admissions and other governmental actions.

"It's been 24 years since Proposition 209 was on the ballot," civil rights activist Eva Paterson told the editorial board. "There's a whole new generation of people who should definitely have their say about whether race consciousness should be allowed in California."

 

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