In summary

Will California live up to its promise as a forward-looking leader setting the pace? Two major police reform bills in the Legislature will tell the tale.

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By Aloe Blacc, Special to CalMatters

Aloe Blacc is a musician, record producer and philanthropist who lives in Los Angeles,

California – a beacon of the future, icon of American promise and possibility, leading the way in everything from technology to environmental protection to music and the arts.

Also, California – stained by police abuses from the beating of Rodney King to the Rampart brutality scandal to forgotten tragedies like the death of Cal State Long Beach running back Ron Settles in custody of the notorious Signal Hill Police Department.

After George Floyd’s murder and the national outpouring around the equally appalling deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and so many more, all American communities face a moment of reckoning. Justice, accountability, and reform are no longer optional – they are mandatory. We have all been forced to decide exactly where we stand and just how far we will go to make the future more equal, more fair.  

And now it’s time for California to choose. Will the state live up to its promise as a forward-looking leader setting the pace for the rest of the nation, or remain chained to its darkest history of police immunity, unaccountability and abuse? Two major reform bills working their way through the Legislature will tell the tale.

The first, Senate Bill 731 by state Sen. Steven Bradford, a Democrat from Gardena, would create an overdue process to “decertify” unfit police officers. This legislation is named for Kenneth Ross Jr., who was killed in 2018 by a police officer with a history of shooting suspects. Ordinary citizens can be dogged for years by even the most incidental brush with the criminal justice system, while officers found to have committed the most serious misconduct shrug it off and continue carrying a badge. That’s just wrong.

SB 731 would also fill gaps in California’s “Bane Act” civil rights law to ensure victims of police crimes get a fair day in court, by closing the loophole under which courts have repeatedly dismissed cases against officers who have shot unarmed civilians, claiming their “intent” could not be shown – and putting an end to cases like that of Mauricio Barron, who was shot while standing with raised hands. 

The second proposed reform bill, Senate Bill 776 by State Sen. Nancy Skinner, a Democrat from Berkeley, adds to her 2018 reforms by ending the culture of secrecy around records of police misconduct and abuse. 

For decades, California has been “the strictest state in the nation when it comes to protecting police confidentiality,” according to the Los Angeles Times. It’s a “blue wall of silence” with deadly consequences.

It turns out that officers involved in violent and discriminatory killings had extensive prior complaints against them. Derek Chauvin, who killed George Floyd, had 18. Daniel Pantaleo, who killed Eric Garner, had eight.

When these records are buried and police departments are given free rein to bottle up bad news, communities remain at the mercy of unfit officers and civilian authorities have no way to effectively oversee their cops. Even when officers are fired, or resign, they can move to continue their misconduct in a neighboring jurisdiction with no incriminating records.

An officer can literally kill a man and leave no bothersome paper trail. SB 776 would end the silence and open up law enforcement to the same kind of ordinary accountability as the rest of us – strengthening the state’s commitment to transparency and setting down a marker for others to follow.

I am honored to work with people from every corner of the music world to support efforts like these proposals being weighed in Sacramento. I have met with Democrats and Republicans trying to figure out what comes next, how to meet this moment.

And right now, all eyes are on California – looking to the Golden State to define the boundaries of what’s possible, of what’s right. 

Looking for an answer to the question of accountability that’s been looming since America took to the streets – what will California do to save the next George Floyd, or the next Breonna Taylor, or you?

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