By Genoa Barrow | Observer Senior Staff Writer
Dr. Shirley N. Weber, California’s first African American Secretary of State, stood with her former California Legislative Black Caucus colleagues outside the state Capitol on April 20, showing her solidarity as the lawmakers discussed the then-pending Derek Chauvin verdict and bills they’ve introduced that speak to the work that remains ahead.
“As an elected official statewide, I understand my unique responsibility to continue to raise the issues that are important,” said Dr. Weber, a former assemblymember, sporting a jacket in a bright red and black African print.
“It’s just not about businesses and nonprofits and voting rights, but all of those things are interconnected and interrelated. When you lose either of those, you lose your sense of power in a state and you lose your abilities to continue to fight for what is right and what is just,” she said.
“We have been just as vigilant about voting rights as we have been about social justice issues, about education and those kinds of things because those are the things that we have been denied. It’s really hard after 402 years in this country to continue to raise the same issues over and over.”
Dr. Weber, who authored AB 392, the police use-of-force reform bill, and led reparations discussions as an assemblymember, said every Black person just wants “what everybody else has: to be treated fairly, to be treated as a human being [and] to be treated justly.”
Witnesses to Floyd’s May 25, 2020, murder implored other officers on the scene to step in during the 9 minutes Chauvin pressed his knee to the handcuffed man’s neck. They didn’t. After the video went viral, countless viewers of Darnella Frazier’s viral video yelled the same thing into their screens, but it was too late then.
“When you think about the issues of the duty to intervene, that’s a human thing,” Dr. Weber said. “If you see something horrible happening around you and you don’t have those feelings and compassion to reach out and to stop it, something is wrong with you.
“We believe that very strongly in this country, whether it’s protecting children or somebody running out in the street or whatever, the human reaction is to respond, because that’s another human being. And yet the history of this country for 402 years has been to lynch us from trees and burn us from trees and nobody intervenes.”
Dr. Weber reflected over that history, which continues into the present, of the prevailing absence of intervention when Blacks have faced violence. “Why didn’t we have to talk about ‘duty to intervene’ for White officers with White kids in trouble?” she said.
Legislation shouldn’t be needed for common sense, but it is, Dr. Weber said.
“Why should I have to tell you that you shouldn’t shoot anybody unless it’s absolutely necessary?” she said. “That should be the norm.”
Though it passed in 2019, Dr. Weber said she continues to get pushback from law enforcement over AB 392. She crafted the law in its original form in the wake of the fatal police shooting of Stephon Clark, an unarmed Sacramento Black man, on March 18, 2018. Officers had chased him into his grandmother’s backyard and mistaken the cell phone he was holding for a gun.
“Denial of the problem is the problem,” Dr. Weber said. “We continue to deny that something is seriously wrong. We have to begin to fight for what is right and what is just and, yes, we sit and we watch the television and wait for the next story, and we wait for the next story, and we hope and pray for justice.
“As I’ve said to my colleagues across the nation, we have done, as African Americans, all we can do. We will continue to write legislation. We will continue to raise the issue. It is now up to the rest of America to decide if they want a better America. We have given our lives.
“It’s not up to African Americans to bring about change. We have done the work. We have struggled and we have fought — not just for ourselves, but for everyone. It is now time to step up and decide that we want a better America, a different America, and that we’re willing to do the work, and to make the change,” the pioneering Secretary of State added.
With only 10 Black members of the state legislature, Dr. Weber said, bringing others into the fight is critical.
We need 41 votes in the Assembly, we need 21 in the Senate, and we need a governor to sign the bill,” she said, “but what we stand for is what is right and what is just for everyone.”