By Antonio R. Harvey | OBSERVER Staff Writer

California Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) said she had hoped to get police reform legislation last year when there were national protests calling for change. OBSERVER file photo

United States Congresswoman and former California Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles), had a feeling that when the nationwide protests calmed down it would be more difficult to pass police reform legislation.

Rep. Bass shared that sentiment during a virtual news conference with the National News Publishers Association (NNPA) on Sept. 29, a few days after it was announced that the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act’s discussion, “slipped away.” 

“We had the momentum last year when we had hundreds of thousands of people out on the streets protesting,” Bass said during the virtual gathering facilitated by NNPA President and CEO Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. “I worried much if we didn’t get it done last year whether or not we would be able to get it done when momentum slipped.”

Bass’s explanation of how the negotiations of the bill between the Republicans and Democrats transpired, took place after turning her political career in a different direction. She announced that she will run for mayor of Los Angeles in 2022.

Last March, the House passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which was engineered by Bass, Sen. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), and Sen. Tim Scott (R-South Carolina).

Floyd, 46, was killed by White Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on May 25, 2020, who firmly placed his knee on the Black man’s neck for almost nine minutes.  The murder set off massive anti-racism demonstrations, which called for widespread police reform.

The legislation is considered to be the “first-ever bold, comprehensive approach” to hold police accountable, change the culture of law enforcement, “empower communities, and build trust between law enforcement and communities” by addressing systemic racism, Bass said.

Under the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, federal law would ban chokeholds, end racial and religious profiling, eliminate qualified immunity for law enforcement, and establish national standards for the operation of police departments. 

In addition, the legislation mandated data collection on police encounters, would reprogram existing funds to invest in transformative community-based policing programs, streamline federal law to prosecute excessive force and establish independent prosecutors for police investigations. 

“I am deeply grateful to Sen. Cory Booker and Congresswoman Karen Bass for working tirelessly with the White House, the civil rights community, and leading law enforcement groups, and for their relentless efforts to negotiate a bipartisan bill in the Senate that is worthy of George Floyd’s legacy.  Regrettably, Senate Republicans rejected enacting modest reforms,” U.S. President Joe Biden said in a Sept. 22 written statement.

Now that both parties have deadlocked on the bill, Scott believes crime will continue to increase while safety decreases, and “more officers are going to walk away from the force because my negotiating partners walked away from the table,” he stated after talks failed. 

Defunding the police and limiting cops’ qualified immunity as a defense in civil cases were issues with Scott and the Fraternal Order of the Police (FOP), the world’s largest organization of sworn law enforcement officers.

Bass said that Scott had told Booker that if he could bring the police on board he could possibly get the bill over the finish line. Sen. Booker did exactly that. He went out and negotiated a deal with the FOP.

“When Sen. Booker brought the deal to Sen. Scott, within a few hours that deal leaked to the press,” Bass said. “When it leaked to the press, then you saw the police organizations personally attack Sen. Booker and attack the process. Once that pile on happened, I think things really began to unravel.”

Bass says Scott, in her opinion, didn’t think he could go forward with the deal. From there, the two sides could not reach agreements pertaining to chokeholds and no knocks.

“We might have closed on chokeholds. Essentially that was it,” Bass told the NNPA Black publishers. “But we did not feel there was anyplace else to go.”

“After months of making progress, I am deeply disappointed that Democrats have once again squandered a crucial opportunity to implement meaningful reform to make our neighborhoods safer and mend the tenuous relationship between law enforcement and communities of color,” Scott stated on Sept. 22. 

Bass says that Scott may have backed out of the discussions to protect his Senate seat and further his political aspirations. She believes Scott has his eyes on a run at the White House.

“I think his trajectory right now is to win reelection (in the Senate) next year and consider a presidential run or position himself to be a vice president candidate,” Bass told NNPA. “He has not said that to me at all. But the fame he has received from police and giving the rebuttal to the State of the Union has catapulted his profile way beyond South Carolina to the national stage.”