SACRAMENTO — Heeding calls for reform made by the thousands relentlessly protesting the death of George Floyd, California Governor Gavin Newsom on Friday called for new police crowd control procedures and the banning of a chokehold that stops the flow of blood to the brain.
The Democratic governor ordered the carotid hold removed from state police training materials and said it was time for law enforcement to update its handling of protests in wake of a week marred by violence against peaceful demonstrators.
“Protesters have the right not to be harassed,” Newsom told reporters. “Protesters have the right to do so without being arrested, gassed or shot at by projectiles.”
As for the carotid hold — which Newsom’s office claims was used on Floyd by a white Minneapolis police officer — the governor said agencies should ban it and stop teaching techniques that “put people’s lives at risk.” In a message to the Legislature, Newsom said he would support and sign an outright ban of the neck hold if a bill comes across his desk.
Officers are supposed to use a grappling technique often referred to as a stranglehold to control suspects in lieu of lethal force. The hold, in which force is applied to both sides of the neck, was banned this week by several San Diego County agencies and the city of Minneapolis.
“Carotid hold that literally is designed to stop people’s blood from flowing to their brain; that has no place any longer,” Newsom said.
In a separate press conference, the California Department of Justice also announced it will investigate and recommend reforms for the long-troubled Vallejo Police Department under a voluntary agreement. The announcement comes after years of activists and community members calling for an independent review of the department, which has faced multiple accusations of excessive force and racial bias.
It also comes three days after a Vallejo police officer shot and killed 22-year-old Sean Monterrosa, who had reportedly dropped to his knees and raised his hands in the air. A Vallejo police officer fired five bullets through his patrol car windshield Tuesday morning after observing what he believed to be a gun tucked in Monterrosa’s sweatshirt pocket. The object was actually a hammer, according to Vallejo Police Chief Shawny Williams.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said during a press call that the review is not in response to any one particular incident. The comprehensive assessment will investigate all department policies and practices, including recruiting, hiring, training and discipline, followed by recommendations for reducing bias and improving use-of-force procedures, community policing, accountability and transparency, according to Becerra.
“It’s a critical step for the police department of Vallejo, whose people have lost faith in them,” Becerra said.
Meanwhile, in San Francisco, progressive District Attorney Chesa Boudin announced a new policy that will require prosecutors to conduct more comprehensive reviews of evidence before charging people for resisting arrest, obstructing police or assaulting officers.
“Sometimes the victims of excessive force and police violence are themselves arrested, so I have implemented a new policy to ensure we view all available evidence before charging a suspect for conduct involving an officer to ensure the charges are valid,” Boudin said in a statement Friday.
Earlier this week, Boudin dropped charges against a 19-year-old man accused of resisting arrest after a video surfaced showing what appeared to be a female San Francisco police officer using the same knee restraint tactic that has been blamed for Floyd’s death on Memorial Day.
Friday’s wave of promises — and the countless preceding demonstrations in cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland — reflect the glaring inequities of California’s criminal justice system, Newsom said.
The former mayor of San Francisco and lieutenant governor said the state’s institutions continue to prop systemic racism and noted the black community’s patience is waning. He bemoaned the state’s history of passing discriminatory drug laws and said despite recently passed sentencing reforms and tighter deadly force standards for police, the criminal justice system is still fundamentally flawed.
“One thing we know about our criminal justice system, it’s not blind — it discriminates based on the color of your skin,” said Newsom, who is white. “A criminal justice system that treats people that are rich and guilty, a hell of a lot better than it treats people that are poor and innocent.”
Newsom also used the press conference to double-down on plans to close two state prisons along with major changes to the state’s juvenile and probation system in the upcoming budget. With negotiations ongoing, Newsom said he would reject any effort made by lawmakers to reduce education funding for low-income and minority communities, as well as English learners.
— Nick Cahill and Nicholas Iovino, CNS