Gov. Newsom Vetoes Bill Funding Police Alternatives

Friday, October 9, 2020

By Grace Z Li for SF Weekly

This week, advocates for policing alternatives in California ran into a stumbling block in the form of Governor Gavin Newsom’s veto pen.

Newsom withheld his signature Wednesday from a bill that would have poured $16 million in funding into community-based, emergency response networks. These networks — specializing in de-escalation — would have served as additional alternatives to calling the police.

The CRISES Act, or AB 2054, was authored by Assemblymember Sydney Kamlager in response to a history of police killings in the United States. “Law enforcement doesn’t have to be called in if you have a homeless person sleeping in a car, or sitting on the corner talking to someone,” Kamlager told SF Weekly in June. “Law enforcement doesn’t have to be called in if someone is playing their music too loudly. Law enforcement doesn’t have to be called in every single time something has gone wrong.”

The legislation had support from several Bay Area organizations like the Berkeley Free Clinic and East Bay Community Law Center Justice Teams Network, as well as people who have lost their loved ones to the police during a mental health crisis. Walnut Creek resident Taun Hall is one of those supporters. Police killed Hall’s son, Miles Hall, after she called 911 for help as he was struggling with schizoaffective disorder. Taun hoped that the authorities would calm Miles Hall down — instead they shot bean-bags at him, exacerbating Miles’ already agitated state before opening fire. 

“People don’t understand how broken the system is,” Hall said when speaking with SF Weekly  in June. “You have to call the police on your child?… At that point, we’re criminalizing our loved ones.”

Hall isn’t alone. Addie Kitchen, whose grandson, Steven Taylor, was killed in a Walmart earlier this year by San Leandro police during a mental health crisis, spoke at a press conference about the CRISES Act just a week before Newsom vetoed the bill. 

“If he had died of COVID, that wouldn’t be as hard. If he had died because he got hit by a car, that wouldn’t be so hard,” Kitchen said. “But when the police — and they’re supposed to protect us — are murdering us because we’re Black, because we’re poor, because we’re homeless, because we’re going through a mental crisis, we need help.”

At the height of the summer Black Lives Matter protests, Newson voiced support for finding policing alternatives. “The bottom line is we’re asking the police to do things that they shouldn’t be doing,” Newsom said in a June interview with The Grio. “We’ve asked them to be social workers, we’ve asked them to be addiction specialists, behavioral health specialists. We simply require the police to take on too many roles and responsibilities. I think fundamentally, beginning to pull back and structurally reforming what we are asking of police departments is long overdue.”

However, in a statement explaining his veto, Newsom wrote that the Office of Emergency Services — which would have worked with an advisory committee to distribute the $16 million in grants for emergency response networks — was “not the appropriate location for the pilot program.”

Kamlager was not satisfied with the governor’s rationale. “This bill was an easy, noncontroversial opportunity to advance racial equity and save lives in California,” Kamlager said in a press release responding to Newsom’s decision. “We will continue to pursue community alternatives to police response that are not controlled by law enforcement and we will work with the Governor to create such a program. Justice demands it.”