“All my life, I’ve been sick and tired. Now I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
—Fannie Lou Hamer
Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) is optimistic that even though 2020 does not mark the first civil rights movement in this nation’s history, it could be one of the last ones.
On June 8, just two weeks after the in-custody death of George Floyd, she joined Sens. Kamala Harris and Cory Booker and introduced the Justice in Policing Act of 2020. On June 17, it was amended to include Geroge Floyd’s name.
“That’s what happens when movements act,” Bass said during a recent virtual forum sponsored by Faith in Action.
Bass was elected to her fifth term in 2018 and she is currently the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). As such, she is leading the charge on police accountability and police reform.
“This bill addresses accountability, transparency and training,” Bass said. “George Floyd would not have died if choke holds were banned. His death was the catalyst for this rainbow movement. For years we’ve tried to explain the brutality, but we were not believed.”
Bass stressed the need for everyone to spread the word and call their senators to pressure the passage of the act.
“We have enough votes for it to pass in the house,” she said. “Please keep marching, march peacefully, but please keep marching. We need that pressure of public opinion.”
Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) has plans to introduce a bill in another few days, but Bass warned that “It takes the muscle out of the bill we’re trying to pass.” Additionally, she is not impressed with the President’s recent executive order on policing.
“The president wants to ban choke holds unless an officer is in fear of his life,” Bass said during Wednesday’s CBC zoom conference. “Well, that’s what’s in effect now.”
Scott discussed his legislation on NBC’s “TODAY” show. As an African-American, he has been stopped by law enforcement seven times in one year, despite the fact he is an elected official. Scott said he has been working on this type of legislation since the 2015 murder of Walter Scott (no relation).
“I’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” Scott said. “I’m sad that it takes another death to get here.”
The Walter Scott Notification Act requires states receiving federal law enforcement funding to report a number of details surrounding officer-related shootings.
“The fact is, without proper data in regards to officer-related shootings, we cannot find lasting solutions in this area,” Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said. Grassley is the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. “The sad reality is that sometimes, deadly force is justified to protect our communities. We need to better understand instances of deadly force to address any abuses and improve law enforcement’s ability to serve all of us. The data collected under this legislation will help law enforcement, lawmakers and the public learn more about these events and prevent them in the future.”
Alternatively, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020 will prohibit federal, state and local law enforcement from racial, religious and discriminatory profiling and mandates training on racial, religious and discriminatory profiling for all law enforcement.
The act would also:
• Ban chokeholds, carotid holds and no-knock warrants at the federal level
• Establish public safety innovation grants for community-=based organizations to create local commissions and task forces to help communities to re-imagine and develop concrete, just and equitable public safety approaches
• Require state and local law enforcement to use existing federal funds to ensure the use of police body cameras
• Establish a National Police Misconduct Registry to prevent problematic officers who are fired or leave an agency from moving to another jurisdiction
• Establish a Department of Justice task force to coordinate the investigation, prosecution and enforcement efforts of federal, state and local governments in cases related to law enforcement misconduct
• Creates law enforcement training programs to develop best practices and request the creation of law enforcement accreditation standard recommendations based on president Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century policing
Obama appointed an 11-member task force to respond to a number of serious incidents between law enforcement and the communities they serve. In 2015, the task force produced a guidebook as a tool, giving specific guidance on how to reduce crime while building community trust.
That final report called for law enforcement to protect the dignity and human rights of all. To be guardians versus warriors.
Needless to say, not every police force adopted the guidebook.
Forum attendees agreed that although policing is a local function and federal law is limited in what it can do, the Justice in Policing Act introduced last week will create a national standard.
The CBC has been working hand-in-hand with other minority legislative groups, including the Congressional Quad-Caucus, which includes the CBC; the Congressional Progressive Caucus; the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus; and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
“I want to thank the people who have taken to the streets peacefully,” said Rep. Tony Cardenas. “I’ve been legislating for 24 years, and I’ve never experienced as a legislator this kind of momentum.
“You are the ambassadors of change,” Cardenas said. “Please ask your family, neighbors and friends to pressure senators. Don’t let up. We need the legislation to actually get passed. We need to keep up the momentum. Let’s not let this opportunity be missed.”
Forum attendees agreed that although this is a very sad time, it also seems to be a very promising time. People are outraged, but also energized.
Bass believes that the House and Senate will review their two pieces of legislation and work out a deal. It’s hoped that the final legislation can be on the president’s desk for signature by the Fourth of July.
“The last thing we want to do is come out with a bill that is essentially smoke and mirrors,” Bass said. “We cannot do that. I think there is a real interest in doing something significant.”