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Sacramento's Use-Of-Force Policy Is Very Weak, Black Lives Matter Says

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Police in Sacramento, Calif., arrested more than 80 demonstrators last night. They were out protesting a decision by Sacramento's district attorney, Anne Marie Schubert, to not charge two officers involved in the shooting death of Stephon Clark.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANNE MARIE SCHUBERT: Was a crime committed? There's no question that a human being died. But when we look at the facts in the law and we follow our ethical responsibilities, the answer to that question is no.

GREENE: Police fired 20 shots at Clark, and he was hit by at least seven bullets. Clark was unarmed, and he's African-American. This happened just about a year ago. Yesterday, I spoke to Tanya Faison. She's head of the Black Lives Matter chapter in Sacramento. And I began our conversation asking if she saw the DA's argument in making this decision.

TANYA FAISON: We have a very weak use-of-force policy. So I expected her to come out with the announcement that she was not going to file charges against the officers that killed Stephon based on the fact that she was following that use-of-force policy. So, yeah, I could see why she came out with that, but it doesn't mean that it's the correct announcement that she should have made.

GREENE: She brought up things like that the officers thought that Stephon Clark had a gun, that they may have seen a flash of light from a gun - I mean, these are the kinds of things that you're saying make you understand why she came to this decision but you're saying it wasn't correct. What - help me understand exactly what you mean.

FAISON: I'm saying that the use-of-force policy is very weak, and it's very subjective. So if you say that you fear for your life, then it validates if you kill somebody, but you can't show physical proof that you feared for your life. So she hasn't filed charges on any of the officers because of these types of use-of-force policies.

GREENE: You're saying it is too easy for a police officer to say I feared for my life and that that helps them avoid any sort of accountability.

FAISON: Exactly.

GREENE: The district attorney released a lot. I mean, there were text messages. There were toxicology reports showing things like marijuana and alcohol in Stephon Clark's system. There were other details seeming to show he was afraid of being arrested for domestic violence. I mean, was it appropriate for the public to learn more about this young man?

FAISON: Not those items - nothing that didn't pertain to the date of the incident. You know, her saying that they investigated the cellphone, saying that she went through the texts and then showing the texts and then saying the name of his children's mother several times publicly and then, you know, finally saying that he may have tried to - or wanted to kill himself and then implying after that that, you know, might have been suicide by cop - it was just way too much information. And she didn't just violate his privacy. She violated his family and the mother of his children's privacy. So that was really problematic, really disrespectful.

GREENE: Is there an argument that she was being just totally transparent in a case like this and in wanting to show the public everything that she and investigators knew about the man who police were confronting?

FAISON: Absolutely not. She wasn't being transparent because if that was an unbiased investigation, then we would've seen the police officer's phone records and if they have any domestic violence situations and what kind of drugs were in their system and, you know, what was their state of mind? We would've gotten all of the information and it would've only pertained to what happened on the 18, not anything before that.

GREENE: You think it's important for the public to learn much more about these two officers.

FAISON: I think the public should know everything about these officers. I think every officer that kills somebody, especially in a city where it's happening every two to three months, we should be scrutinizing every single thing in their past because we don't need them on the streets policing us or driving in our neighborhoods if they're going to be abusive toward us or kill us.

GREENE: You talked about California, in your mind, having very weak use-of-force laws and wanting things to change. It sounds like you have a governor right now who's very open to that. Governor Gavin Newsom issued a statement calling for systemic reforms to the criminal justice system in the state. What exactly would you like to see happen to the law?

FAISON: I think the main thing that we need to see - because a lot of bills are passed and, you know, they move us like, you know, an eighth of an inch closer to where we need to be. But I think what's really important is if we create new policy that attached to each policy are the consequences of what's going to happen if those policies are violated. So if we get new laws, there needs to be consequences attached. And once officers start getting fired or getting charged and convicted for murdering people, then they're not going to probably kill us as often as they do. But right now, we haven't seen that ever, so I think that's what gives them, you know, the green light to go ahead and do what they want.

GREENE: What about the argument you often hear that if you put too many consequences into the law that it could hamstring police, causing them to not be able to do their jobs as effectively to keep neighborhoods safe?

FAISON: I think that's ridiculous. I think that sounds ridiculous. Every job that you have, you have rules and then there's consequences to those rules if they're broken. And so, it shouldn't be any different for them. Actually, it should be a higher standard for them because, one, we're paying for their salaries, two, they are supposed to be the ones defending the law. So, I mean, it just doesn't make sense that, you know, you would be able to be above the law if you were also defending the law.

GREENE: Could you just talk about this moment in the movement? I just listen to you and others talk about the law and making changes to the law to try and prevent deaths like this in the future. Is that a new priority or is there more energy behind changing the law? Is this a moment of transition when it comes to the Black Lives Matter movement and how you respond to killings like this?

FAISON: Our chapter is more of an abolitionist chapter. We're not reformists. But, you know, we understand that you can't change or end something overnight. So we need to be finding ways and building structures for us to take care of ourselves and our communities. So if there is a de-escalation, you know, situation that's happening, then we need to be relying on each other instead of calling the police. So I think that we need to throw the kitchen sink at this. We all need to be trying to pursue our ideas and fight with everything that we have because not one thing is going to change this. And changing the laws isn't going to change it, but it's going to definitely help.

GREENE: That was Tanya Faison. She is head of the Black Lives Matter chapter in Sacramento where Stephon Clark was shot and killed by police last March. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.