THE recent deaths of unarmed citizens, often of minorities, at the hands of white police officers have broken hearts and sparked a national uprising about issues involving race, social justice, and equality.
On Friday, May 29, an important bill addressing the deep issue of racial profiling moved forward through California’s legislative process.
“Many Californians have lived experiences with racial profiling and other forms of biased policing. It’s time for us to do something about it. Racial and identity profiling has no place in California,” said Lee Winkelman, Lead Organizer for Reform California.
Authored by Assemblymember Shirley Weber (D-San Diego), AB 953 aims to curb racial and identity profiling by improving trust between the police force and its community, ensuring that all Californians are treated fairly by police. The bill, in accordance with recommendations by the US Attorney General, would collect basic information about who police can stop, search, and frisk in order to identify and eliminate unjustified racial bias. To date, the state of California does not collect, analyze, or make available such information.
A recent report by a state police department found that blacks were stopped twice as often as their driving age demographic representation, and that blacks and Latinos were respectively searched/interrogated at three or two times the rate of whites. However, during these searches, blacks and Hispanics were found less likely to have engaged in criminal activity.
“To build police-community trust and ensure all Californians are treated with dignity and respect, we first need basic information about what the police are doing,” said Layma Murtaza, Policy Advocate at Asian Americans Advancing Justice in Sacramento.
AB 953 will go to the Assembly floor for a vote within the next week.
A similar bill authored by Weber, AB 619, was held in the Assembly Appropriations Committee on Friday, May 29. AB 619 would require that the Attorney General provide the Legislature an annual report on use-of-force incidents involving law enforcement, and to make the information available on the California Department of Justice’s website.
“Our communities have been shaken by the recent deaths of unarmed black and brown men throughout the country. We are disappointed to see this use of force bill stalled, but will continue to move forward to affirm that we are all worthy of fair policing,” said Samilah Hankins, Director of Legislative Advocacy with Dignity and Power Now.
In California, the public is far too often left in the dark when it comes to information about force used by law enforcement, even though all state and local law enforcement agencies collect information, argues the American Civil Liberties Union.
AB 619 seeks to improve trustworthy transparency and accountability within law enforcement, by giving the public more access to invaluable information on police records and use of force that result in death or serious injury.
“In recent months, the deaths of unarmed black men and other people of color by police have forced us to confront some ugly truths about the persistence of racial bias in law enforcement,” Weber said. “One of the best defenses is information. Currently, this information on these incidents isn’t provided publicly in a comprehensive way.”
Others argue that data collection of police records will not fix issues with disparate policing. However, “increased transparency and accountability will bring us one step closer,” said Rosa Cabrera Aqueel, Legislative Director with PICO California. “We hope Assemblymembers keep that in mind as they vote on [AB 953] next week.”
Both bills heard in the Assembly Public Safety Committee were sponsored by the ACLU of California, The Youth Justice Coalition, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, and PICO California.
“The goal is to reestablish trust between law enforcement and communities of color,” continued Weber. “If we have data collected and published on these incidents as required by AB 953 and AB 619, we can shed light on the scope of these problems and hold those bad officers and departments accountable, while also finding a set of best practices when law enforcement gets it right.”
(LA Weekend May 30 – June 2, 2015 Sec. A pg.1)