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The belief that law enforcement authorities use lethal force too quickly has essentially become a public policy consensus over the past 15 years. The driving factor has been the proliferation of mortifying videos on cellphones and body cameras that show officers repeatedly escalating conflicts, often with mentally ill people, or shooting fleeing people in the back. – often unarmed men of color. Even before a Minneapolis police officer murdered George Floyd on May 25, 2020, California lawmakers showed that consensus in 2019 when state lawmakers approved then-member Shirley Weber’s bill. ‘Assembly, aimed at raising standards on when officers could use lethal force on a combined vote of 102-3.
But even as police chiefs and sheriffs enact various reform measures, tout the importance of de-escalation training, and admit that their officers’ interactions with people with mental illnesses can be both counterproductive and dangerous, people continue to die. And die. And die. And die.
This week William Schuck, 22, and Lonnie Newton Rupard, 46, became the fourth and fifth people to die this year in San Diego County Jail. On March 3, Yan Li, 47, was killed in her apartment in Little Italy by deputies and a police officer after she stabbed one while serving an eviction notice.
The fatal shooting came nearly an hour after Li’s first encounter with the sheriff’s deputy who drew his gun seconds after she arrived to hand her the paperwork when she answered the door holding a large knife . The video released by sheriff’s deputies only raises more questions about the tragedy. Where was the urge to enter her apartment and confront her? Why not keep deputies at his door and wait for him outside? Why not get mental health counselors and try to get family members and friends to contact Li? Yan Li should be alive today.
Due to Li’s actions, it seems unlikely that there will be charges against those who shot him. But that in no way means that this case was handled thoughtfully or in a way that reflects well on the sheriff’s department or the police department.
Other cases are no less infuriating. This week, a federal judge ordered the release of body video from a March 2020 case in Los Angeles County with parallels to Floyd’s murder and echoes of Eric Garner’s death in New York in 2014. At a California Highway Patrol station, 38-year-old Edward Bronstein died after an officer appeared to kneel on his neck while he was handcuffed and face down on a mat. Before passing out, Bronstein said “I can’t breathe” or “let me breathe” at least 12 times in 30 seconds. That’s what Garner and others said. And say. And say.
It is unacceptable that the CHP covered up this incident and that the officers involved were not charged. CHP Commissioner Amanda Ray is to explain why it took a federal lawsuit for her agency to provide evidence of its officers’ fatal misconduct. Edward Bronstein should be alive today.
Yet on Tuesday, Contra Costa County Sheriff David Livingston blasted a judge for sentencing a former deputy to six years in prison for making the “split-second tactical decision” in 2018 to fatally shoot a unarmed man slowly walking away from him. Laudemer Arboleda should also be alive today.
Livingston’s mindset is the reason people keep dying. Law enforcement is difficult. But lethal force is a last resort that is too often used in place of de-escalation.
This essay is in the print edition of The San Diego Union-Tribune on March 19, 2022, with the title, Lethal force is still not the last resort