Before the bullet hits

Updated: Jan 18

‘Under existing law, a homicide committed by a peace officer is justifiable when necessarily committed in arresting a person who has committed a felony and the person is fleeing or resisting such arrest.’

Ryan Twyman’s children still sometimes ask for ‘daddy’, though the oldest one knows enough to shush the youngest when the questions start. His mother still can’t bear to gather up his stuff, though the stray jackets and the spare shoes scattered throughout the apartment make her tear up whenever she sees them. He left behind three kids, killed after sustaining multiple gunshot wounds to the chest, the police having fired thirty-four rounds into him as his car backed away from two deputies who were approaching with assault rifles from both sides. His body was left in the car for hours afterwards.

Kenneth Ross was crouching behind an electrical box when the police fired at him. His hands empty, the asphalt gritty beneath him, the two bullets lodged in his chest left trails of red in the dust around him. He had always told his mother that he would be there to take care of her. But in the end, Ross, a man who had given his allowance money to the homeless when he was young, leaving his mother behind after the police shot and killed him when he was identified as a running suspect.

Willie McCoy was only starting to wake up in his own car when the windows shattered and a hail of bullets punctured the foam seats and the sides of his chest. In the dimly lit drive-thru of a Taco Bell, the lights of the parking lot flared overhead, six officers surrounded the vehicle and ended his life, an incoming spray of metal that left him to bleed out. He had still been half asleep when police fired 55 shots in three and a half seconds at him. A rapper about to turn 21, McCoy became just another piece of an ever-growing statistic on February 9th, 2019.

In all three of these cases, the force that the police officers employed was technically legal according to the original law, because two of the victims were by all the details, ‘resisting arrest’, and the third of the victims, McCoy, had a gun in his lap as he awoke. However, under the new bill, this would change.

‘This bill would redefine the circumstances under which a homicide by a peace officer is deemed justifiable to include when the officer reasonably believes, based on the totality of the circumstances, that deadly force is necessary to defend against an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to the officer or to another person, or to apprehend a fleeing person for a felony that threatened or resulted in death or serious bodily injury, if the officer reasonably believes that the person will cause death or serious bodily injury to another unless the person is immediately apprehended.’

And change it must, because what gives police the right to be judge, jury, and executioner in a case where a decision must be rendered in seconds? The nation has been rocked by case after case of police brutality, and California is finally doing its own part in stemming the tide of deaths of victims who are usually racially profiled and then murdered. Our state has a long history of police brutality, especially in the LA and San Francisco areas, and this bill, AB-392 is nothing but a required response to the force across the state. If passed, the bill is enough to give pause to officers in the event of uncertainty or perhaps carelessness, a pause that might mean the difference between life and death.

The changes proposed are effective, and while not as far-sweeping as originally planned, will do their part in guaranteeing that police take a few extra seconds in deciding whether or not they are truly in danger. From cases where victims were shot from behind to the one in which a man was shot in the back as he was lying on the floor and complying with instructions, there have been, according to the Washington Post, “eighty-two deaths in California”, at the hands of the police force in 2019 so far. Also according to the Washington Post, “115 people [were] shot and killed by police in California in the year of 2018”. While some of the deaths may have been of dangerous criminals, the majority of such deaths were unwarranted and unnecessary, as shown by the fact that thirteen of the 115, happened in cases where the victim was only in possession of a toy weapon.

While some proponents of the original bill might say that police officers deserve to make their own decisions when it comes to safety, the overwhelming number of deaths of those who were not threats is astounding. Take the case of Eric Rivera. He was twenty-two, walking home, when two officers, who’d received calls of a ‘man with a gun’, saw him. Seven seconds after they’d first spotted him, the officers shot at him eleven times. The officers’ car then ran over his body, which was left there for hours. His water gun, neon-green, was found nearby afterwards. According to the Kock.LA, “Ten months after Eric’s death, on April 10, 2018, the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners, the Civilian Oversight head of the LAPD, unanimously ruled that the two officers who shot, killed, and ran over Eric acted “within” LAPD policy.” With the changes suggested by AB-392 implemented, Eric, who was neither fleeing the scene nor in any way a danger to society, would not have died. Hundreds of needless deaths would have been and can be prevented with the implementation of this bill. It is the only right and just solution to a problem that has let hundreds of mostly black and male residents of California bleed out because of careless or hasty decisions.

Works Cited

“Bill Text.” Bill Text - AB-392 Peace Officers: Deadly Force., leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201920200AB392.

“Deputies Fired Some 34 Rounds, Killing Man Who Used Car as 'Weapon,' LASD Cmdr. Says as Video Is Released.” KTLA, 21 June 2019, ktla.com/2019/06/20/video-shows-lasd-deputy-involved-shooting-that-killed-unarmed-father-in-willowbrook/.

“Fatal Force: 2019 Police Shootings Database.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 2 Jan. 2018, www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/national/police-shootings-2019/.

Levin, Sam. “Hundreds Dead, No One Charged: the Uphill Battle against Los Angeles Police Killings.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 24 Aug. 2018, www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/aug/24/los-angeles-police-violence-shootings-african-american.

Levin, Sam. “Los Angeles Officers Shot at Ryan Twyman 34 Times. He Was One of Four They Killed That Day.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 15 Aug. 2019, www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/aug/15/police-shootings-los-angeles-sheriffs-department-ryan-twyman.