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Representative Karen Bass has renewed hope that Congress will pass police reform

Our Weekly Los Angeles Cover Art for Thursday, April 29, 2021. This edition's cover story discusses proposed police reform in
Our Weekly Los Angeles Cover Art for Thursday, April 29, 2021. This edition’s cover story discusses proposed police reform in the United States at the federal level. Credit: Our Weekly LA

Last week, Rep. Karen Bass (CA-37) was featured on both “Pod Save America” and ABC’s “The View” addressing the Derek Chauvin verdict and her policing reform legislation. She believes this is the time to make the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act the law of the land.

“I absolutely believe we’re gonna to get this over the finish line,” Bass said during the podcast. “We have a small window. In our American culture, we have very short attention spans. We have to strike now.”

Bass is leading the fight for expansive, historic policing reform in Congress. She told listeners that she had flashbacks to 1992 – when everyone was so sure of the outcome of the Rodney King verdict.

Bass wondered out loud why the Chauvin verdict announcement appeared so suspenseful and why so many had been deeply afraid there would not be a measure of justice.

She admitted to feelings of relief when the Chauvin verdict was read “after a decision that held a bad cop accountable for his actions.” Bass noted that the world watched a video that showed a man being “tortured to death over nine minutes” and the evidence was overwhelming.

“There was relief more than celebration,” Bass said. “That speaks to all the problems that still exist. It’s sad that the outcome was ever in doubt.”

Bass praised the actions of the 10 police officers who testified against Chauvin, along with the courage of 17-year-old Darnella Frazier, who videoed the murder on her cell phone on that fateful Memorial Day.

Without that video, Bass stressed, Floyd’s murder would have gone by the wayside, as the cause of death had previously been listed as “man dies from medical incident after police interaction.”

Yet and still, Bass said that she would not rest until the sentencing hearing next month, as she has seen judges in past cases like this decide to be lenient, letting the accused off with a light sentence.

Chauvin was convicted of second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter, which carry penalties of up to 40 years of imprisonment.

“I want to see Derek Chauvin get the absolute maximum for torturing George Floyd to death,” she said.

The legislation she co-sponsored, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021, (HR1280), increases accountability for law enforcement misconduct, restricts the use of certain policing practices, enhances transparency and data collection, and establishes best practices and training requirements.

The murder of George Floyd sparked a global movement for racial justice and it’s hoped that the video, the witnesses and police testimony that lead to Chauvin’s guilty verdict will prompt actions from congressional leaders. Bass stressed that it’s going to take substantive and transformative legislative policy to prevent future police brutality and that HR 1280 needs to be passed within the next couple of weeks.

“Why is it that so many officer-involved interactions with citizens result in death?” Bass asked. “It’s time that we take a real, deep look at law enforcement in the United States and look at how do we change the culture so that we don’t have these situations.”

Although she agreed with Minnesota attorney general Keith Ellison, who said that he wouldn’t call the Chauvin verdict justice, but accountability, Bass believed that making officers accountable speaks to the heart of the problem.

“Derek Chauvin didn’t have a problem looking at the camera,” Bass said, noting the former police officer’s record of bad interactions and his cavalier attitude during last year’s incident showed that he did not fear retribution. “The biggest issues are based on holding officers accountable.”

While there are physician registries—letting patients know if their physician has been sued for malpractice—no such registry exists to hold police officers responsible and accountable for their actions.

More than 100 shootings have resulted in death since last year’s murder of Geroge Floyd.

“Why are police in the United States involved in so many shootings? Why?” Bass said.

Bass sponsored HR 1280, along with 199 co-sponsors in Congress. The legislation was passed by the House of Representatives and was received in the Senate on March 9. It has yet to be picked up for a vote in the Senate and is not expected to be passed in the upper chamber of Congress without the necessary support of at least 10 Republicans.

A compromise bill that was introduced by Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina would block Democrats’ attempt to limit or end qualified immunity.

Rep. Cori Bush (D-Missouri), told CNN on Sunday that she is unwilling to support any compromise bill that keeps qualified immunity intact.

“The safety net shouldn’t be there,” Bush told Abby Phillip on “Inside Politics.” “Where are all of the special protections for nursing and for other people in other positions that do very dangerous work?””

“We compromise on so much. You know, we compromise, we die. We compromise, we die,” Bush added. “I didn’t come to Congress to compromise on what could keep us alive. … If you don’t hurt people, if you don’t kill people, if you are just and fair in your work, then do you need the qualified immunity anyway?”

Specifically, the bill addresses a wide range of policies and issues regarding policing practices and law enforcement accountability. Among other things, it does the following:

• Lowers the criminal intent standard—from willful to knowing or reckless—to convict a law enforcement officer for misconduct in a federal prosecution,

• Limits qualified immunity as a defense to liability in a private civil action against a law enforcement officer, and

• Grants administrative subpoena power to the Department of Justice (DOJ) in pattern-or-practice investigations.

Additionally, it establishes a framework to prevent and remedy racial profiling by law enforcement at the federal, state, and local levels. It also limits the unnecessary use of force and restricts the use of no-knock warrants, chokeholds, and carotid holds.

The bill also creates a national registry—the National Police Misconduct Registry—to compile data on complaints and records of police misconduct. It also establishes new reporting requirements, including on the use of force, officer misconduct, and routine policing practices (e.g., stops and searches).

Finally, it directs the DOJ to create uniform accreditation standards for law enforcement agencies and requires law enforcement officers to complete training on racial profiling, implicit bias, and the duty to intervene when another officer uses excessive force.

Bass asked listeners to raise this issue on social media and urge their senators to pass the bill.

“I think that would go a very long way,” Bass said, adding that she hoped that Biden would address the issue during Wednesday’s state of the union address, set on the eve of the day that marks his first 100 days in office.

“In our country, we need to take a moment and say what is policing in the United States?  Bass said. “Why is it so militaristic?”