By Marielena Castellanos
Under a hot sun last Sunday, a group of protestors marched through the streets of Nestor calling for justice and accountability from the police.
The march and a rally that followed were organized by the family of Raul Rivera, who suffered from mental illness and was fatally shot by police back in May of this year. A statement from the San Diego Police Department said he allegedly refused to drop a knife when confronted by police. Rivera’s family has raised questions about Raul’s death. They believe police officers could have prevented it. An investigation is underway.
The march began on the very streets where Rivera was killed. Raul’s sister Flora Rivera was among the first to speak at the rally. “There’s nothing worse than to lose a family member like that,” she said.
A recent report published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health found blacks, Latinos, and Native Americans are disproportionately killed by police.
In 2016, Alfred Olango, a Ugandan refugee who came to the U.S. at the age of 12 in search of protection from violence, was killed by police in El Cajon after his sister called 911 requesting help for her brother.
Tony Abuka, Olango’s youngest brother, spoke at the rally for Raul Rivera recalling that before Olango died, he was going through an emotional breakdown after his best friend committed suicide.
“It took a big effect on him. My sister called the police, placed three calls in the time span of an hour. They said it wasn’t at the top of their priority list to come and help. When they finally came, it took less than a minute to approach my brother, one officer tased him, and another officer fired multiple shots.”
In Sacramento this past March, police shot and killed 22-year-old Stephon Clark in the back yard of his grandmother’s house. Clark was unarmed.
In National City in May of this year, one day before Raul Rivera was killed, Earl McNeil died after being arrested and suffering severe brain damage while in custody of the National City Police Department. Last week the medical examiner provided preliminary findings of the investigation to McNeil’s family, and a full report is expected in mid-August.
During the rally for Raul Rivera, Tasha Williamson, a friend of the family of Earl McNeil, said, “We should not have to create a law that says it’s a crime to lynch us. We think the Raul Rivera and Earl McNeil families are not asking for things that can’t happen, things that should be a part of law enforcement policy.”
“We stand with the Raul Rivera family that stands with the Earl McNeil family that stands with the Olango family that stands with the Sergio Weick family, and the Jonathan Coronel family,” Williamson added.
In July 2017 in Vista, Jonathan Coronel was fatally shot by police, and, also in Vista in August 2016, Sergio Weick was shot by police and died after suffering 18 gunshot wounds. The San Diego County District Attorney’s Office previously ruled Weick’s shooting was justified, and recently reported deadly force was reasonable in the case of Coronel.
The shootings continue to ignite the debate over deadly use of force by police and demands for accountability.
Assemblymembers Shirley Weber (D-San Diego) and Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) have proposed legislation to create stricter limits on when police can use deadly force.
If approved and enacted, the Police Accountability and Protection Act, also known as AB931, would require officers to use deadly force only when it’s “necessary” to stop an imminent threat, and only when attempts to de-escalate the situation with nonlethal tactics haven’t worked.
“We need to ensure that our state policy governing the use of deadly force stresses the sanctity of human life and is only used when necessary,” said Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, a San Diego Democrat who introduced the bill. “Deadly force can be used, but only when it is completely necessary.”
Convictions against police officers are rare. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that officers can’t be held criminally liable in shootings where they feared for their lives.
Alex Vitale, a professor of sociology at Brooklyn College, told the weekly magazine The Nation the proposal could generate some progress, but ultimately it is likely to fumble. “The mechanisms of accountability require discretion by prosecutors and juries who typically have given police tremendous latitude in their use of force, regardless of what the legal standard is,” he said.
The proposed bill also faces opposition. In April of this year ABC 10 News in Sacramento reported a dozen police chiefs and police association executives from across California announced their opposition to the bill, expressing concerns it would cause second-guessing from officers and place them at risk.
Los Angeles Airport Peace Officers Association (LAAPOA) President Marshall McClain, who is among a number of law enforcement organizations opposed to the bill said, “While the intent of AB 931 is commendable, this bill lacks clear direction and foresight. It’s obvious that these lawmakers have no concept of just how dangerous policing can be and how a seemingly nonthreatening situation can quickly devolve into tragedy.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) supports the bill and has stated a study by racial justice advocate Samuel Sinyangwe found that officers who are held to more restrictive policies are less likely to kill. Those departments on average also see lower rates of officer assaults.
Two major law enforcement groups, the Police Executive Research Forum and the International Association of Chiefs of Police have released model policy guidelines that call for higher standards than just reasonableness, including de-escalation and holding officers accountable for creating circumstances that justify deadly force.
Charlie Lakony a close family friend of the Olango family who also attended the march and rally for Raul Rivera, summarized his view of police shootings, “Once police arrive, they kill you very quickly, shoot you over many times. It can be explained the first bullet, the second bullet, the third bullet. What is the seventh, tenth bullet, the eighteenth bullet for? It’s for dehumanizing you. It’s making a pungent statement we hate you and we want you gone.”
Lakony added, “In the coming months, in the coming weeks, we are going to start working with each and every family and we’re going to start talking with a louder voice.”