Presidential candidate Julián Castro unveils police overhaul plan

"The system is broken," said Castro, the only Latino running for the Democratic nomination.
Image: Julian Castro
Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro addresses the California Democratic Party Convention in San Francisco on Sunday.Jeff Chiu / AP

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By Suzanne Gamboa

Julián Castro is calling for restricting the use of deadly force by police to combat "racially discriminatory policing" in a plan he unveiled Monday.

Castro, who is running for president, supports national standards for police officers and local departments that receive federal funding and said those standards should include combating discriminatory policing "that leads to the disproportionately high number of black men who are killed by police."

Castro, a former HUD secretary and the only Latino in the race for the Democratic nomination, had previewed his proposal over the weekend at the MoveOn Big Ideas forum in San Francisco and touched on it at a forum on immigration Friday in Pasadena, California.

“How many of these videos do we have to watch to understand that even though we have some great police officers, this is not a case of bad apples?” Castro said at the forum after ticking off names of victims of deadly force by police. "The system is broken, so let’s fix it."

He made a similar comment Friday in Pasadena, after a young Latino man said he had been stopped by police and feared for his life as he heard the click of the gun of the officer who had pulled him over.

Castro, a former San Antonio mayor, said his plan would establish national standards and guidelines for police conduct; increase transparency and accountability for police departments and officers; “demilitarize” police by ending the transfer of federal military weaponry to local departments; and end racial profiling.

“From Stephon Clark, to Pamela Turner, to Tamir Rice, far too many lives have been tragically cut short at the hands of a broken police system,” Castro said.

Michael Gennaco, a former federal prosecutor and founder of the OIR group that helps agencies and communities reform their police and law enforcement agencies, called Castro's proposals "very ambitious" and said his objective of raising policing to a certain level of standards is "long overdue."

"We have thousands and thousands of police departments creating their own standards," Gennaco said. Currently departments rely on a 1989 Supreme Court ruling to provide the floor for use of force and particularly use of deadly force, he said.

President Barack Obama convened a panel that set some pillars of expectations but compliance was voluntary. Some departments have worked hard to achieve the panel's recommendations, but few have reached total compliance, Gennaco said. Legislation would be needed for national standards and there would likely be a lot of pushback from police agencies, he said.

Dante Barry, cofounder and executive director of Million Hoodie Movement for Justice, was one of several leaders from community and activist groups the Castro campaign consulted in devising the policy plan. Barry's group formed after Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman.

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Barry called Castro's plan "bold" and said it sends a "significant" message to the public that that there are presidential candidates interested in movement-led ideas on police violence. He said it had added importance that the only Latino candidate in the race sees how police impact black and Latinx communities.

Barry praised Castro's proposals on "demilitarizing police" and "moving away from criminalization" of black and brown communities. He also gave him kudos for including the need for guidelines for using surveillance technologies such as facial recognition tools because of biases and the disparate impact its use has on racial and ethnic minorities.

Some of Castro's ideas are outdated, such as his push for police to use body cameras, he said. The lesson from police violence in Vallejo, California is that police can block access to the video, Barry said. But he said the Castro's plan follows other bold plans from the candidate that initiate conversation, such as his ideas on reparations for African Americans.

Police violence is an issue that also reverberates in the Latino community.

A survey commissioned by Latino Justice PRLDEF found that 58 percent of Latinos polled in late 2017 believed police were more likely to unjustly use force against Latinos than white people, though just 46 percent believed they were likely to be stopped by police.

"Francisco Serna from California, Ismael Lopez from Mississippi and Juan Silva from Florida are just some of the names of Latinos in the country who have lost their lives to police use of force — yet are barely mentioned by mainstream media," said Juan Cartagena, president and general counsel at LatinoJustice PRLDEF.

Cartagena said the police practices Castro wants reformed are those the group has sought to eliminate for years because they "unfairly target Latinx communities and fray the confidence they would otherwise hold for local police."

"When you start a national discourse with policing practices and accountability, you start exactly at the place where Latinx communities have yearned for change," Cartagena said in a statement.

The policing plan is Castro’s third policy proposal since he began his campaign, after proposals on education and immigration. While he’s won accolades for the broadness and depth of his plans, Castro still is struggling for top-tier status in the crowded Democratic field.

So far this year, 372 people have been shot and killed by police, according to a Washington Post database.

The numbers have been on the decline, but the use of deadly force by police and other law enforcement on black and Latino men has drawn protests and national attention to racial bias in policing.

The issue of racial inequality in policing pushed into the forefront of the 2016 presidential campaign when Black Lives Matters activists confronted Sanders in a Seattle speech. Sanders ended up turning over the microphone to activists and leaving without addressing the crowd. He has since rallied with activists of the group.

Some of the details in Castro’s policing plan are:

— Restrict use of deadly force unless there is an imminent threat to the life of another person.

— Set accountability and responsibility standards for officers to intervene if they witness a colleague using excessive force.

— End racial profiling and stop-and-frisk policies.

— Establish a national database that tracks police officers decertified in any state or locality.

— Make it easier to hold offending officers accountable under criminal and civil law.

— Ensure officers receive high-quality mental health and trauma support services.

— End local police and law enforcement immigration enforcement cooperation under so-called 287(g) agreements.

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