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Police reform debated in Washington


Although the mainstream media reported that Democrats in Washington had walked away from police reform negotiations, Rep. Karen Bass (CA-37) recently stated that was not the whole truth. Bass met with members of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) Wednesday morning in a zoom meeting hosted by Ben Chavis, president and CEO of the NNPA, which is composed of nearly 200 of Black newspapers across the country.

“After the (George Floyd Justice in Policing Act) bill was passed (in the House of Representatives) on March third, the Democrats went to Senator (Tim) Scott and started a number of bipartisan meetings on a compromise bill,” Bass said.

“At many different times in the process, Sen. (Cory) Booker and I thought we were getting somewhere,” Bass explained, noting that the momentum for reform, which was in high speed last year during the Black Lives Matter protests, has now faded and crime rates have risen.

“We were never able to close on any issue,” she said of the talks, meant to address law enforcement culture, accountability, transparency and training. “We might have closed on chokeholds, but that was it. We could never get to ‘yes’ on anything.”

The bill is on hold right now. The Senate is not willing to bring it up because they don’t have the votes.

Republicans told the press that they could not reach a deal because the Democrats wanted to ‘defund the police,’ but that was a false narrative, according to the congresswoman.

“What we have seen from the Republicans and from Senator Scott, is that when agreement cannot be reached, the buzzword they use is ‘defund the police,’” Bass told the NNPA gathering. “Every bill provides funding for the police. If you’re going to provide training, you’ve got to propose funding for that.”

There are an average of three deaths each day at the hands of law enforcement, according to Bass.

“We want to stop the deaths,” she said, noting that a number of these deaths involved police responding to a mental health crisis. “Mental health technicians or social workers need to be called first and have a police backup, just in case.”

Currently, relatives call on law enforcement and then, Bass said “they pray that when the police come, their relatives aren’t killed.”

The next steps for activists and Democrats is to come up with a new strategy. Bass insists that even though congress did not deliver, the Biden administration is still committed to making reforms and guidelines through governance in the many law enforcement entities, including the Department of Justice; U.S. Customs and Border Protection; Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Homeland Security. Bass hinted that future actions may include asking President Joe Biden to draft a new executive order.

Strategies also include preparing for midterm elections in 2022.

“We need a full-throttle campaign next year to get the vote out,” Bass said. “That needs to start now.”

Most importantly, Bass does not want activists and concerned citizens to become discouraged. Even though Democrats have slim majorities in the House and Senate, it is still difficult to get things done.

“There are senators on our side of the isle who don’t want to let go of the filibuster,” Bass explained. “Even though we have not succeeded on the federal level, activists have to know their efforts were successful. So many states have made reforms. It’s just so important that our young people not be demoralized. Their movement—those hundreds of thousands of people who were out in the street—it became a worldwide movement and it meant a lot.”