By Chauncee Smith
One year now removed from Ferguson, it seems like we could never be closer to it.
Last August, we bore witness to the unsettling death of 18-year-old Michael Brown and, 12 months later, we see that little has changed.
Since Brown’s death, unarmed black men have been killed by law enforcement at alarmingly disproportionate rates. Specifically, reports indicate that black men account for 40 percent of 60 unarmed deaths at the hands of police this year, and are seven times more likely than white men to be shot to death by police while unarmed. At the state level, California holds the ominous record for the highest number of civilian deaths at the hands of law enforcement this year, currently totaling 129.
Meanwhile, bystander, dash and body-worn camera footage make it more difficult to escape the very real implications of these numbers.
We saw what happened to Samuel Dubose, Walter Scott, Charly Keunang and Tamir Rice.
We heard about Brandon Glenn, Freddie Gray, Christian Taylor, and countless others.
In California, such racialized police violence walks in-tune with views regarding our system of public safety. Polls show that a majority (55 percent) of Californians believe that people of color do not receive equal treatment in in the criminal justice system, and a supermajority (71 percent) believe that young black males are more likely to be discriminated against by police.
Given these stark realities, one might think that it would be relatively easy to pass legislation to address systemic problems with biased policing. That view, however, could not be farther from the truth.
This session, our state legislature has considered more than two-dozen police reform measures, but, due to overwhelming influence held by law enforcement lobbies, a mere handful are still live.
One of the most meaningful proposals left, AB 953: The Racial and Identity Profiling Act of 2015, would combat racial profiling and help address the disproportionate rates at which people of color are being killed by police.
Authored by Assemblymember Shirley Weber, AB 953 would place California on a path toward fair policing by modernizing our state definition of profiling to include identity characteristics beyond race, creating a uniform system for collecting and reporting basic information on police-community interactions, and establishing an advisory board that develops solutions to curb profiling. A recent poll shows that approximately 67 percent of likely California voters support AB 953.
But knowing that many in Sacramento are reluctant to stand up to the law enforcement lobby, several hundred Californians will be marching and rallying at the Capitol to call on lawmakers to pass and Gov. Brown to sign AB 953.
We know we are experiencing a deep crisis in biased policing, but it seems like Sacramento needs some reminding.
It’s time California took the necessary steps to address this crisis and affirm that Black Lives Matter.
The ACLU of California is a proud co-sponsor of AB 953, along with Reform California, Dignity & Power Now, Asian Americans Advancing Justice–Sacramento, PICO California and Youth Justice Coalition. Chauncee Smith is racial justice advocate at the ACLU of California Center for Advocacy and Policy.