California to Cops: Kill Only When ‘Necessary’ Not When ‘Reasonable’


eading the way, as usual, California has significantly “changed the narrative” around when it’s a good time for police officers to kill the people they are charged with protecting and serving.

The objective, according to Assembly Bill 392, and which was signed into law by freshman Governor Gavin Newsom on August 19, is to replace the “reasonable” rationale in cops’ decision-making process with a standard of absolute necessity. “Necessary” force rather than “reasonable” force is the new order of the day in California.

The law mandates that police may only resort to deadly force “based on the totality of the circumstances,’’ which, crucially, must also include use of de-escalation techniques and crisis-intervention methods.

In terms of non-lethal force, this also means that cops can no longer beat you to within an inch of your life, or into a blubbering pulp just because they think it’s the “reasonable” thing to do. In California, they must now show cause as to why these almost routine beat-downs are…well… “necessary,” as well.

Modern-Day Slave Patrollers Hard at Work ( Photo credit:

“We are doing something today that stretches the boundary of possibility and sends a message to people all across this country that they can do more and they can do better to meet this moment,”Newsom said at a presser surrounded by grieving family members of people killed by police.

This law grows out of concern and activism by groups such as Black Lives Matter and the ACLU. There are reports circulating right now indicating that “death by cop” is the 6th cause of death of young black men in the US.

Accordingly, in the state capitol of Sacramento, the firing of at least twenty shots in March, 2018 at Stephon Clark, an unarmed black man outside his grandparents’ home, sparked statewide protests. The officers claimed to have mistaken Clark’s cellphone for a gun.

The new law was at first widely panned by virtually every California law enforcement organization. Still, after some tinkering around the edges by the legislature, and the fact that the bill had significant bipartisan support, the police unions and other law enforcement groups essentially caved in and finally gave their grudging support for the new dispensation.

Democratic Assemblywoman Shirley Weber of San Diego (pictured above), a co-sponsor of the bill, said the law “changes the culture of policing in California.”

Another milestone, of sorts, has begun as a result of this new law’s timing: Newsom signed the bill on the same day that the New York Police Department announced the firing of Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who killed alleged loose cigarette salesman Eric Garner in July of 2014.

“I can’t breathe’

Eric Garner’s repeated, plaintive cries as Pantaleo wrapped his neck tight in an illegal choke hold became the signature line for a renewed movement against police brutality, especially police brutality against black people, and even more especially against police brutality against black men — from New York City to Sacramento and back again.

Garner’s and Clark’s deaths, occuring on opposite ends of the country, precipitated and book-ended renewed nationwide protests because just as in so many, many apparently countless other cases, the particular police officers who killed these particular men have never been held accountable legally. Indeed, Pantaleo was only fired after five full years of “desk duty,” during which time, of course, he continued to collect his $120,000 annual salary and became vested in his generous New York City Police Department Pension.

This just in: Officer Pantaleo suing to get his job back.

(Photo credit:

Rev. Joy Johnson runs a faith-based advocacy organization in Sacramento. She connected the clear and obvious dots between Stephon Clark’s killing and this new “necessary force” doctrine:

“We’re trying to raise the public’s consciousness to see that, if you say you followed the law to the letter and the law says it’s justifiable to take the life of an unarmed person, then we believe the law needs reexamining.’’


Both disciplines of political science and sociology agree that the most salient and definitional characteristic of the modern nation-state is its capacity as the sole entity with the legitimate right to use or authorize the use of physical force, especially deadly physical force.

The German thinker Max Weber is widely considered one of the founding fathers of sociology. In a 1918 lecture,“Politics as a Vocation,” Weber argued that the “state” is a “human community that [successfully] claims a monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.” According to Weber, then, the modern state is, at bottom, the result of the physical expropriation of the means of political organization and the physical domination thereof. This expropriation is accomplished by means of coercion, usually, at least initially, violent coercion, which thereby establishes the “legitimacy” of its rule and its monopoly on the use, the instruments, and the rationale for violence.

In philosophical circles, this type of circular reasoning is called a tautology: My violence legitimates my domination over you because I am violent.

In practical terms, though, the effect is that the violent state is the only actor that can legitimately authorize the use of violence — by its official agents usually, but it can delegate that power (the “legitimate” use of force/violence) to anyone it so chooses.

As noted above, police and law enforcement agencies in California (and I suspect nationwide) object vociferously to this new “necessary force” standard. They understand completely, of course, that California is the pace setter in any number of social, political, cultural, and economic changes (advances) throughout this nation-state. “As California goes, so goes the the nation,” says the Governor.

But because the state of California has now so ordered, police there are themselves forced to treat people — even black people, especially black people — as human beings (killing them only “when necessary” and not just when it seems like a “reasonable” thing to do). Hopefully, this idea, this notion will spread to all “law enforcement” agencies far and wide.

till, though, isn’t it up to the individual cop to determine what circumstances or events “necessitate” lethal force? In many, if not most, instances this “necessary” or not-necessary decision may or will still be a subjective determination. But, at least it’s a start toward getting rid of some of those far too many and infamous “bad apple” cops.

Freelancer since the earth first began cooling. My beat, justice: racial, social, political, economic and cultural. I’m on FB, Twitter, Link,

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