It seems that on an almost weekly basis we hear about someone being killed by police. Since the beginning of 2020, nearly 1,600 people have been killed by the police nationwide. Of those, 14 percent occurred in California. And right here in San Diego County, 25 people died by the hands of police and correctional officers in 2020. It should be horrifying to all Americans that we live in a country where an average of three people per day are killed by those who are tasked with protecting our communities and that countless others are brutalized and harassed by the same force. Yet far too many people are able to look away because they are not directly impacted.
As family members of Alfred Olango and Jonathon Coronel, we do not have the option to look away. Both of our loved ones had their lives stolen by police. Alfred was killed by El Cajon police officer Richard Gonsalves in 2016. Jonathon was killed by Sheriff’s deputy Christopher Villanueva in 2017. When Alfred was killed, he was unarmed and going through emotional distress associated with having learned a close friend had committed suicide. Instead of getting the help he needed, he was gunned down in a parking lot. Jonathon was also unarmed and shot 16 times by the same officer who killed another man, Sergio Weick, just eight months before by shooting him 28 times.
California has allowed far too many police officers to sidestep accountability and continue to use their power to commit racist, abusive and often deadly acts. Like the officer that killed Sergio and Jonathon, Vallejo police officer Jarrett Tonn had a history of violence before he killed Sean Monterrosa in 2020. Gardena police officer Michael Robbins had been involved in three other shootings before killing Kenneth Ross Jr. in 2018. And many other cops like these have been allowed to move from department to department without raising an alarm because our state lacks the most basic systems of accountability.
With an ongoing and necessary national conversation taking place about reimagining public safety and the policies that protect the power of police at the expense of communities, it is clear there is a lot of work to do. One thing that other states have gotten right, however, is recognizing that cops who abuse their power do not belong on our streets and creating ways to remove them. Across the nation, 46 states have implemented common sense decertification systems to remove officers who abuse their power and harm communities. Yet California, which boasts the most police officers of any state in the country, lacks such a system, putting communities at risk.
Senate Bill 2 would address this by ensuring the officers we employ are held to basic standards — like over 200 other professions in the state — and that they are removed from our streets when they violate those standards. Specifically, SB 2 would establish a multilayer statewide process to investigate and decertify officers who engage in serious misconduct, including excessive force, sexual assault and dishonesty. It would also increase accountability through robust state and national reporting requirements that prevent police officers who engage in misconduct from bouncing from one community to another.
We are fighting to pass SB 2 because while we will never be able to get real justice for our family members, we can create a new system in their names that makes our communities safer and protects other families from having to experience the pain we feel.
Far too many of us live in fear that we, or members of our families, will not make it home safely because Black and Brown people are constantly being targeted by police violence. The first step to ending this and actually making our communities safer is holding police officers accountable for abuse of power and harm caused to communities.
Last year, we saw our state legislators publicly state that Black lives matter and that they were committed to police reform. Yet they let this critical bill die without a floor vote last year. This year, we are hearing the same words, but it’s time for lawmakers to take action. If they are really serious about making Black lives matter across California, there is no time to waste. Our Legislature must pass SB 2 now.
Tony Abuka is a community leader and president of the Alfred Olango Foundation. Rocio Zamora is a member of the California STOP Coalition, a statewide coalition of family members whose loved ones have been killed by police.