The other day my mom confronted the police. She questioned why they were detaining a young Latino for no reason, according to her. Not that my mom knew something about the young man that the cops did not know; she had never seen him. But she tends to think about the best in people. The fact that she suffers from Alzheimer’s disease also explains her courage and lack of fear in giving her opinion to the officers. By her side, I had to navigate carefully to distract and pacify my mother so that the situation did not continue to grow in intensity.
I explained to the officers in English that my mother suffered from Alzheimer’s disease; she only speaks Spanish. And after I failed to try to guide her to the car (she got more angry), I told her we had to leave because I was going to be late for work. That encouraged her and she quickly turned around, completely forgetting about the situation with the police. I thanked God that I could calm the situation, especially because I know that not all police officers are trained to interact with people with mental illness.
Today, we are more sensitive to deaths caused by the police, as we should be. However, many times in the press these episodes are covered as isolated cases, focusing on the conflict between activists, almost always African-Americans, who seek more transparency about the incident and the police who follow their research protocols. What is not reported is how those protocols are not written in order to safeguard the lives of the community. If we can all agree that the police should never take a human life when they have alternatives, it is important to know that this is not the current practice in California. Nowadays police officers can use lethal force even when they have other options. That is why community advocates are promoting a new bill, AB 392, the California Act to Save Lives, so that those protocols are consistent with our social values.
The statistics on violence at the hands of the police are alarming. In 2017, officers killed 172 people in California, half of whom did not carry weapons. Of those 172 people, almost 50% were Latino. California police killed people at a rate 37% higher than the national average per capita. And the police kill more people in California than in any other state. Across the country, almost half of the people killed by the police have a disability or mental illness.
I had known some of these statistics and that’s why I was unnerved when we found the police in front of our car at the restaurant. It is true that officers need better training but they also need clear protocols that indicate that they can only use lethal force when there is no reasonable alternative. When the police use tactics to stop situations and reduce tensions, it saves lives in the community and also increases the security of the officers. Find the ACLU webpage on AB 392 to support this effort and save lives.