SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Following the police shooting of an unarmed black man in California's capital city, activists seeking police accountability have formed a statewide network to help communities respond to police shootings and to weaken protections for the officers involved.
The Justice Teams Network, which officially launched Wednesday, includes Black Lives Matter Sacramento and Los Angeles, the Anti Police-Terror Project in Oakland and the Law Enforcement Accountability Network in Anaheim. Executive director Cat Brooks said the network provides a response model for communities to launch civilian investigations of police shootings, organize vigils and reach out to family members suddenly in the public spotlight.
"There's no support for them. That was the impetus for our model," said executive director Cat Brooks, who is a candidate for Oakland mayor.
It's also backing bills in the California Legislature that would require police to release more records on use of force and disciplinary action and to significantly restrict when police can use force.
The sometimes fraught relationship between California police and communities of color has attracted national attention following the fatal shooting of 22-year-old Stephon Clark by two Sacramento police officers in March. Clark had just run into his grandparents' backyard when he was shot by officers responding to a call of someone breaking car windows. Officers said they thought he was armed, but Clark had only a cellphone.
The Sacramento chapter of Black Lives Matter quickly mobilized protests and a vigil in the wake of the shooting, which is under investigation by the police department and the California attorney general. Through weeks of protests, including several that shut down major roadways and blocked fans from entering an NBA arena, Black Lives Matter helped keep the crowds peaceful and there were few arrests.
The group is now actively training and recruiting people to conduct civilian investigations of police shootings, using the Justice Teams Network's model, said Tanya Faison, founder of BLM Sacramento.
"It may help us with the work that we're trying to accomplish," she said.
She hopes the network can set an example for the rest of the country.
John Lovell, a California lobbyist for law enforcement groups, questioned the need for civilian investigations.
"When there are investigations about citizen complaints, about possible misconduct, the investigations by the agencies are very thorough," Lovell said. "They involve talking to everyone around the transaction whether they are law enforcement or involved citizens."
Law enforcement groups also criticize the two bills moving through the Legislature, SB1421 and AB931.
Brooks says the bills would make progress toward the network's larger goal of dismantling a set of protections known as the Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights Act.
Law enforcement groups say some records should be kept secret to ensure a fair disciplinary process and that police need to have discretion over when to use force.
The protections ensure basic due process rights for police officers in employment-related proceedings, Lovell said.