Lethal force policies need thoughtful debate



April 8, 2018 - 11:00 PM

The fatal March 18 shooting of an unarmed 22-year-old African-American man in the backyard of his grandparents’ home in Sacramento raised anew painful questions about U.S. law enforcement’s troubling history of disproportionate use of lethal force against black men. Stephon Clark’s death and the issues it evokes demand thoughtful debate.

That is why Assembly members Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, and Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, deserve credit for introducing Assembly Bill 931. Presently, fatal shootings are considered justified if an officer had a “reasonable fear” for his or her safety, a standard that has been interpreted so loosely that police killings rarely lead to criminal prosecutions. The Police Accountability and Community Protection Act would raise the standard under which officers could use deadly force, only allowing it when nonlethal approaches — such as using verbal warnings or persuasion — appear insufficient to prevent imminent death or bodily injury.

“Existing use-of-force laws have made an encounter with law enforcement — no matter how ordinary and no matter whether an individual is unarmed or even cooperative — into one that ends in the death of a civilian,” Weber said in a statement.

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