August 23, 2019
On April 26, 2018, the Butte County Sheriff’s Department responded to a complaint of a woman acting erratically. Myra Micalizio, a 56-year-old UDW member who served elderly and disabled people in her community as a caregiver, had wandered into a neighbor’s yard while experiencing a mental health crisis. Within 20 seconds of encountering the unarmed woman, deputies had fired their weapons 13 times, inflicting lethal injuries upon the woman everyone describes as kind, gentle and childlike.
Myra was one of 115 people killed by police in California in 2018—29 of whom are known to have lived with mental illness. With California having one of the weakest police use-of-force standards in the country, it was time to consider giving police the training and tools to de-escalate these types of encounters and to hold them accountable when they use deadly force as a first, not last, resort. As a union founded by people of color in 1977 and currently consisting of mostly women and people of color who live in over-policed communities, UDW members knew this was our fight and we took it on. And, because nearly half of people killed by police are people with physical, developmental or cognitive disabilities or mental illness, we knew it was our moral duty to highlight the special danger that people with disabilities face in police encounters.
This year we signed on as a co-sponsor of Assembly Bill 392, a bill authored by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, that is designed to reduce the number of unnecessary killings of unarmed civilians by police. As we fought for this landmark legislation, Myra’s memory and her senseless death were always top-of-mind. She was one of us, and we looked to her gentle spirit to guide us. We joined activists and impacted family members from all over the state who have stepped forward to share stories of how their loved ones, like Myra, were lost in a police encounter gone horribly wrong. Thanks to the hard work of UDW, our allies, and the many impacted families who shared their pain, AB 392 passed through the Legislature and was signed into law on by Governor Gavin Newsom on August 19.
Myra’s daughter, Hali McKelvie, stood at Governor Newsom’s side as he signed the bill and was one of two impacted family members invited to speak at the bill signing ceremony. Looking out at the crowd of over a hundred people who had lost a loved one to police violence, Hali spoke movingly to the pain of losing her mother to police violence and her hopes that AB 392 would save others from similar trauma.
“On April 26, 2018, my family, myself, my mother and her legacy, became part of a club that nobody wants a membership to,” Hali said. “My woman was a woman of her faith. She was dedicated to our family, her friends, her animals and, most importantly, her community. She never failed to see the good in life.”
Hali said it was impossible to know if having a law like AB 392, which gives California one of the strongest use-of-force standards in the country, could have saved her mother. But she said she hoped the selfless work done by impacted families by sharing their grief could inspire lasting change.
“My hope going forward from today is that accountability will be served, that communities can start to heal, that transparency will come through and that everybody – the citizens of this state, members of their communities and our lawmakers, everyone – comes together to change the system,” she said.
Hali said passage of AB 392 is only the beginning of the path to ending unnecessary police violence and implored us all to work tirelessly to do honor to the life of Myra and others like her by ensuring the promise of this law is fulfilled as it is enacted and enforced.
“Because [then] my mother’s life and the lives of many others who were killed before her and were killed after her will not be in vain,” Hali said. “Our loved ones are going to go forward and have the impact that we all desire.”
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