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Newsom calls for new California restrictions on police use of force following death of George Floyd

Gov. Gavin Newsom bumps elbows with Los Angeles business owner Candace O'Connor.
Gov. Gavin Newsom greets Candace O’Connor, owner of Brimberry Barber and Beauty Salon, on Wednesday in Los Angeles after she shared her thoughts on running a business in the time of COVID-19 and the recent protests.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

After a week of protests across the state against police brutality and racial injustice, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday called for new restrictions on crowd control techniques and the use of force by law enforcement, including a ban on so-called “carotid holds,” after George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer.

Newsom said the controversial technique, a restraint that puts pressure to the sides of a person’s neck to restrict blood flow and can render the person unconscious, should be barred from the state police training program, adding that he will work with lawmakers to ban the practice among law enforcement agencies statewide.

“We train techniques on strangleholds that put people’s lives at risk,” Newsom said during a press briefing in Sacramento. “Now we can argue that these are used as exceptions. But at the end of the day, [a] carotid hold that literally is designed to stop people’s blood from flowing into their brain, that has no place any longer in 21st century practices and policing.”

The Democratic governor vowed to work with the California Legislative Black Caucus, community leaders and law enforcement officials on new use-of-force standards, and restrictions on how to respond to protests and demonstrations.

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“Protesters have the right not to be harassed. Protesters have the right to protest peacefully. Protesters have the right to do so without being arrested, gassed, shot up by projectiles,” Newsom said. “That’s a simple value statement.”

The announcement comes at the end of a week in which Newsom embarked on a listening tour in Los Angeles, Stockton and Sacramento as protests against police brutality and demands for racial justice continued across California, part of a nationwide uprising following Floyd’s death.

Newsom said the nation is in dire need of sweeping cultural change and commitments to equality and that the country as a whole has been paying “lip service about that for generations” to the black community. Still, he has cautioned that there are no quick fixes, and that change must be driven by community groups, nonprofits, business leaders and individuals — along with the government.

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California already has established itself as a leader in criminal justice reform, Newsom said, legalizing the use of marijuana and working to eliminate sentencing policies that discriminated against blacks, Latinos and Californians on the lower end of the income scale.

He noted that his proposed budget calls for the closure of two state prisons, and the elimination of the state Dept. of Juvenile Justice. He touched on his executive order enacting a moratorium on the death penalty, a sentence which he said “discriminates based on the color of your skin, discriminates based on wealth.”

“We’re trying our best in this state, but we have to do more,” Newsom said.

Among the community leaders Newsom is consulting is Lateefah Simon, president of the Oakland-based Akonadi Foundation, an organization focused on the racial justice movement and efforts to eradicate structural racism.

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“This inflection moment in this country and, frankly, around the world, suggests that we get it right. That we identify this moment for what it is — a sea change in facing race and racism,” said Simon, who appeared with Newsom on Friday. “We can’t go back.” So for those men and women for decades and literally centuries who have been calling and demanding a shift — we owe them. We owe them.”

On Friday, members of the Legislature’s black and Latino caucuses, among others, introduced legislation that would make it illegal for officers to use “carotid holds.”

“The world watched as the 200-pound weight of a police officer was leveraged on the neck of George Floyd for over eight minutes,” said Assemblyman Mike Gipson (D-Carson), the lead author of the legislation. “We all witnessed this execution. This was far beyond the existing law that authorizes a peace officer to use reasonable force to effect the arrest, to prevent escape or to overcome resistance.”

Earlier this week, San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit said his officers will “immediately” stop using the controversial neck hold, calling the decision “the right thing to do for our community.”

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In 1982, the Los Angeles Police Commission acted to limit the use of the carotid chokehold after the death of James Mincey Jr., a 20-year-old black man who was put in a carotid hold after leading officers on a high-speed car chase.

The LAPD restricts the use of a carotid restraint to situations requiring deadly force.

Gipson said his bill is supported by members of the California Legislative Black Caucus, the Latino Legislative Caucus, the Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus, the Legislative Jewish Caucus and the Legislative LGBTQ Caucus.

“Speaking as a legislator and elected official, we have to do better,” Gipson said. “We have to hold those in authority accountable.”

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Newsom on Thursday also announced his support for a proposal from Assemblywoman Shirley Weber (D-San Diego) to study the impact of slavery and consider potential reparations, a longtime priority of the California Legislative Black Caucus. Newsom this week also pointed to Weber’s landmark police use-of-force bill that he signed into law in 2019 as evidence of progress at the state level.

In his second year in office, Newsom faces the delicate task of helping lead California through yet another crisis, with the state’s major cities enveloped by demonstrations against decades of discrimination and racial inequality, as well as clashes with law enforcement and separate incidents of violence and looting.

Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra said Friday that his office will investigate the policies and actions of the Vallejo Police Department, which has come under fire in recent days after the shooting by police of Sean Monterrosa, a 22-year-old unarmed Latino man, amid this week’s protests against police abuse.

The state’s top law enforcement officer also asked Congress on Friday to expand federal law to give state attorneys general clear authority to investigate and resolve patterns and practices of unconstitutional policing.

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“When our communities speak up about their pain, we in law enforcement have to listen and take action,” Becerra said during a telephone press conference. “George Floyd’s death didn’t happen in a vacuum; it’s a symptom of the collective failing of our criminal justice system to adequately stand up for people of color. We have to do better.”

Becerra said the review of the Vallejo Police Department is similar to those launched previously by the state Department of Justice for the San Francisco, Sacramento and Bakersfield police departments, and in regard to the Los Angeles Police Department’s use of a database of gang members.


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