Sunday, March 4, 2018

How Do We End Impunity for Police Killings?

By Francisco (“Fran”) Rivera

 This week, students from the Santa Clara Law International Human Rights Clinic and I participated in a meeting with the San Francisco District Attorney to discuss the investigation into the police shooting of Luis Góngora Pat. The DA, George Gascón, is a progressive Cuban-American, but he has not pressed charges against any of the police officers involved in any of the officer-involved shootings in San Francisco, including those responsible for the death of Luis Góngora, despite overwhelming evidence that the officers’ use of deadly force was neither proportionate nor a result of an imminent threat. The DA and his team explained how the law throughout the U.S.  (and particularly in California) is heavily on the side of the police in such cases of use of deadly force. The DA emphasized that his hands were tied because the law actually allows police officers to use disproportionate force and even lethal force despite any imminent threat.

He even cited (approvingly) Amnesty International’s 2015 report that found that the laws of all 50 states on the use of force by police are incompatible with minimum international human rights standards. That study found that no law in the U.S. “limits the use of lethal force to the strict scenario of when an officer is facing an imminent threat of death or serious injury.” The study further found that only the “statutes of Idaho and New Mexico limit the use of lethal force to scenarios where the officer or the public face a threat of death or serious injury. However, even those two states do not require that the threat be “imminent” and therefore still fail to meet international standards in regards to necessity.”

To be clear, according to the DA and to Amnesty International’s study, California law (or the law in any other state) does not establish a requirement that lethal force be used only as a last resort; it does not require that non-lethal means be used first; nor does it require the suspect to pose an imminent threat of death or serious injury, or any kind of threat whatsoever.

How can we prosecute police officers who use disproportionate, unnecessary, excessive and deadly force, if the law actually allows them to do so? How do we stop this epidemic of impunity? I guess in addition to changing the laws, part of the answer requires District Attorneys to press charges in egregious cases like the shooting of Luis Góngora Pat, where the evidence clearly shows that the officers used disproportionate and unnecessary deadly force, and then allow the jury to determine whether a guilty verdict would be just (lawful?).

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