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Sanger police shot and killed her brother. Now she’s an advocate for use-of-force bill

Charles Salinas, shown in an undated photo. He was shot by Sanger police in 2012. A federal civil-rights jury later ruled that three Sanger police officers with assault rifles did not use excessive force, nor were they negligent.
Charles Salinas, shown in an undated photo. He was shot by Sanger police in 2012. A federal civil-rights jury later ruled that three Sanger police officers with assault rifles did not use excessive force, nor were they negligent. Special to The Bee

This past week marks seven years since my brother, Charlie Salinas, was killed by Sanger police just one block from our childhood home. These seven years have been filled with trauma, confusion, injustice — but now, finally — hope for change. For the last several months, countless families like mine whose loved ones were killed by the police have organized and lobbied in Sacramento for the passage of AB 392: The California Act to Save Lives — and we are on the brink of making history.

The California Act to Save Lives is critical legislation that will prevent tragedies by putting in place best practices for use of deadly force. AB 392 updates California’s outdated use of force standard to state that it must be “necessary” to use deadly force and police should pursue other options than deadly force whenever possible. Had this been the standard seven years ago, Charlie could still be with us today.

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Special to The Bee Contributed

My little brother was a good, gentle man who loved sports, the Marines, and his family. He was also a veteran who struggled with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. On the day he was killed, Charlie called 911 and told the dispatcher that he wanted to die. He was experiencing a mental health crisis; he needed help. Instead, the police who arrived fired 22 bullets at him.

When Charlie was shot, his hands were in the air and he was following instructions, but non-deadly options were not pursued. Why does California law allow police to kill people when it is not necessary to protect from an imminent threat?

For far too long, California has ignored the problem of police shootings, and the disproportionate killings of black and Latino Californians, and those with disabilities. AB 392 finally addresses this problem head on — with solutions we know work.

Reforming our outdated standard is common sense. Several police agencies and law enforcement organizations have recommended or already adopted stricter use-of-force standards than what we have in California. Seattle, for example, saw a reduction in the number of use-of-force incidents after adopting a standard similar to the one in the California Act to Save Lives, while officers have remained just as safe.

We give police officers the most significant power we give to any public employee — the power to kill. We must make sure police use that power judiciously, with respect to human rights, with a belief in the sanctity of all human life, and only when absolutely necessary. We must also hold police accountable whenever they misuse that power.

Under AB 392, courts will be required to consider the officers’ actions leading up to the use of deadly force. As a part of the STOP Coalition, I support and advocate with dozens of other families whose loved ones were killed by the police. In nearly every case, no one was held accountable and no policies were changed to prevent future tragedies.

Charlie suffered a lot in his life, but he just needed help. My brother didn’t deserve to be killed. He deserved compassion and respect for the sanctity of his life. Just because someone wants to die doesn’t mean police should shoot them.

If AB 392 passes, California will go from having one of the deadliest use of force laws in the country to having one of the most protective laws in the country; and California will be the only state to combine the “necessary standard” with requirement that courts consider officers’ conduct leading up to use of deadly force in determining its legality.

None of this could have been possible without the leadership and courage of countless families who have lost loved ones to police violence, and we will continue to fight to make sure we can live with dignity and free from the fear of police violence.

AB 392 is a step in the right direction, toward greater appreciation of life – including those who are suicidal and suffering and toward justice for our lost loved ones. This is how I honor my brother’s life, by fighting to make sure other families don’t have to go through what we have experienced. Pass AB 392 today — #LetUsLive.

Jennie Ruiz, raised in Sanger, lives in Porterville and is a psychiatric technician.
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