People attend a rally and vigil on March 31 for Stephon Clark, who was fatally shot last month by police in Sacramento, California. On Tuesday, state lawmakers proposed a bill to redefine the standard for when police may use deadly force. Photo by Elijah Nouvelage/ EPA-EFE
April 3 (UPI) -- Two California lawmakers proposed a bill Tuesday that would redefine what circumstances a police officer is allowed to use deadly force.
Assemblywoman Shelly Weber and Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, both Democrats, hope to change language in the state's nearly 200-year-old law that says police may use deadly force "when reasonable" to "only when necessary."
"The current law is that a police officer can use deadly force when they think it's 'reasonable.' Well, you and I can differ about what's reasonable. What the new law will say is 'only when necessary,'" McCarty told reporters. "You'll have to be able to show that this was the only option you had."
The lawmakers said the bill proposal was brought forth in response to the shooting of Stephon Clark, an unarmed, 22-year-old black man who was fatally shot by police while standing in his family's backyard last month, which has sparked protests in Sacramento.
Clark was shot eight times, including six times in the back., according to autopsy results.
"We have been deeply saddened and frustrated by the killing of black and brown men by law enforcement," Weber said at a press conference Tuesday. "It seems that the worst possible outcome is increasingly the only outcome that we experience. But the public's activism in the last few weeks and their energy has been truly inspiring. It is time now that we legislators match that energy by pushing for smart and effective reform."
Lizzie Buchen, a legislative advocate for the ACLU, which supports the bill, said the current standard for when police may use deadly force gives "legal cover" to those officers who have shot unarmed people.
"This bill would change state law so that a police officer can only use deadly force when it's necessary," Buchen said. "Clearly, the current standard where they can use deadly force when they feel a serious threat isn't enough to prevent unnecessary deaths of members of the community, particularly people of color."
She added: "It's clear that the current law protects the police, not the people."
Shaun Rundle of the California Peace Officers Association told Capital Public Radio that his organization will evaluate the bill, but criticized the lawmakers' view that "reasonable" didn't equate to "necessary."
"We just have some thoughts that to assume right now that an officer does not consider all other reasonable alternatives before resorting to deadly force is, I think, somewhat inaccurate," Rundle said.