On Wednesday afternoon, the California Assembly passed A.B. 392, taking the state one step closer to a new national standard for police use of force.
The bill, championed by Assembly member Shirley Weber of San Diego, passed by a final vote of 68-0.
A.B. 392 has been the subject of lengthy, passionate debate over the last several months as both police groups and reformists criticized the bill. Initially, the original version defined “necessary” use of force as when police have “no reasonable alternative.” That language was axed, along with a component that would have allowed officers to be held criminally liable for negligence-related deaths. Currently, A.B. 392 demands police deploy deadly force only when “necessary in defense of human life.”
Briefly, it seemed A.B. 392 might not have the support to soar through the chamber as easily as it did. A similar bill failed to clear the legislature last year, despite being introduced in the aftermath of the killing of Stephon Clark, who was fatally shot by police while holding a cell phone in his grandparents’ backyard. But after the concessions were made, police groups in the state acknowledged a change was overdue and retracted their opposition.
“AB 392 now reflects the shared experiences, perspectives, and expertise from everyone at the table, from families and communities to the officers who have sworn to serve and protect them,” Ron Lawrence, president of the California Police Chiefs Association, said in a statement, per the San Francisco Chronicle.
According to the San Diego Times-Union, Delaware and Tennessee both have laws on the books that go beyond A.B. 392 by requiring police to use all other alternatives before their gun; similarly, Washington state requires cops to de-escalate if at all possible, language not used in California’s bill. But A.B. 392's language does go further in setting forth what qualifies as an “imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury.” Per the bill:
An imminent harm is not merely a fear of future harm, no matter how great the fear and no matter how great the likelihood of the harm, but is one that, from appearances, must be instantly confronted and addressed.
When the compromise went to a vote on Wednesday, more than a dozen lawmakers stood to speak about the bill. Rep. Mike Gipson of Carson, a former LAPD officer, provided the most emotional statement of the afternoon, pulling on his professional and life experience to explain why the bill was a trying piece of legislation to pass.
“I struggled with this bill,” Gipson said. “As a former police officer, as a black man, as a black man that has two young sons, I struggle with this bill. Being in this position as a state assembly member, I struggle with this bill. As someone whose partner was killed in duty as a police officer, I struggle with this bill. With seeing a young man at 15 years old die in my arms while on patrol, I struggle with this bill. [I’m] making sure I get it right the first time. I’m not playing with this.”
Gipson commended Weber for her work and ultimately voted in favor of the measure. When it came time for Weber to bring it home as the final speaker, she recounted the 400-year history of racist and violent legislation that black Americans have been fighting to correct.
“It is the hardest thing I have done on this floor,” she said.
As Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon gaveled the bill’s passing vote into the public record, the chamber exploded with applause. A.B. 392 will now head to the Senate and then the desk of Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has publicly spoken in support of the bill.
The bill that made it out of the Assembly wasn’t perfect, and some have and will continue to argue that it ever-so-slightly lets cops off the hook, but it is action where there previously was none. And given all this (gestures to the rest of this shitshow), it’s a win worth savoring and legislation worth building off of.
Correction: A previous version of this post incorrectly stated that two members of the chamber voted against the measure. Based on the final vote tallies posted on the legislature’s website, the vote tally has been corrected.