Overseeing the investigation into the police killing of Stephon Clark is a golden opportunity for California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to answer critics who question whether he can be trusted to prosecute police officers.
Becerra’s office on Tuesday joined the investigation into the 22-year-old Black man who was unarmed when two Sacramento police officers gunned him down in a hail of at least 20 shots in his grandmother’s backyard on March 18. The officers, who were responding to reports of someone breaking car windows, claimed that they believed he had a gun, which actually turned out to be a cellphone.
Protesters are demanding charges against the cops. To ease the volatile situation, Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn, who is African-American, thought it was in “the best interest of our entire community” to have an independent investigator.
Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert has a troubling history with cases of police shooting Black men. However, there are also question marks and doubts about Becerra. Like Schubert, Becerra is up for election this year. Consequently, personal political interest will be part of the equation in the investigation.
A Sacramento native, Becerra was appointed attorney general in January 2017 to fill the office vacated by Kamala Harris after she won her election to the U.S. Senate. The first Latino to ever hold that state office previously served 12 terms in Congress, where he was once head of the House Democratic Caucus.
The new attorney general immediately positioned himself as a champion in the fight against President Trump on immigration, but showed little interest in fighting police misconduct, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Indeed, Becerra has so far received a thumbs-down from some of the state’s Black activists, including the president of National Action Network’s San Diego chapter Rev. Shane Harris.
Harris criticized Becerra for failing to address police racial bias, particularly in the case of Alfred Olango. In 2016, an El Cajon, California, police officer shot and killed Olango, an unarmed black man. A year later, the local district attorney cleared the officer of criminal wrongdoing.
“California AG Becerra is quick to sue Trump admin over border wall but has the full power to investigate police shootings and won’t do it,” Harris tweet, according to The Sacramento Observer.
Perhaps it was an election year decision that led Becerra to take charge of overseeing the San Francisco Police Department in February, after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions decided to drop federal oversight of Obama-era policing reform of the department. A 2016 federal investigation found that San Francisco police stopped and frisked African-Americans at a disproportionately high rate, as well as “implicit and institutionalized bias against minority groups,” the Washington Post reported.
Who knows where political calculations could lead this investigation? Hopefully Becerra and Schubert won’t decide to ignore justice because of their elections.