Anatomy of a failure, but hope is alive

Karen Bass
Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA)

By Ken Koontz

October 8, 2021 12:25PM
Ken Koontz

CHALOTTE, NC - Rep. Karen Bass, Democrat from California, recently held a video conference with the National Newspapers Association to outline how a bi-partisan effort to get a police reform bill passed ultimately failed. In summation, it could likely reflect Charles Dickens’ quote from his novel “Tale of Two Cities,” once a required English class reading in most schools.

Rep. Bass and bi-partisan collection of Representatives worked with Democratic Senator Corey Booker and his Republican colleague Tim Scott to forge passage of the so-called George Floyd Bill. Its originally stated primary intent was to codify police reform in the wake of numerous Black victims of police-involved deaths such as that of the much publicized and live-filming of Minneapolis police murder of George Floyd. His murder generated global protest around killings of Black Americans by police.

Bass told the video conference of more than a hundred Black newspaper publishers, executives, correspondents, and reporters in a Zoom session that drafting such bill initially had bi-partisan momentum a year ago when hundreds of thousands of people were on the streets protesting and calling for legislation designed to stop the killings. She stressed that she and fellow House Democrats and Republican conferees has drafted a measure that went to Democrat Booker and Republican Tim Scott to gain Senate approval and eventual passage. However, she told the conference that protest efforts last year around a theme to “defund police” left police demoralized, quitting, retiring, and not showing up. And then crime ticked up and inevitably cycled with FBI reporting homicides up 29% in the country.”

She added that her concern was that positive momentum inevitably flip-flopped, which is where she says things are now. She emphasized that crime and homicides are up because police have been demoralized with all the discussions about reform. “We have tied their hands,” she said. “What we need to do now is abandon these discussions and allow the police to do whatever they have done in the past.” She added that she is describing “political rhetoric, but that’s what’s out there.”

Bass said she felt they had regained positive reform momentum when the trial began around the George Floyd murder, the verdict, and the sentence. She felt those would offer opportunities to reach a compromise that would lead to passage of a reform bill. She noted that Senator Scott told the Democrats that if they got the police on board, he could get enough Republican colleagues on board and take the bill across the finish line. Booker is said to have negotiated an historic deal with the Fraternal Order of Police and presented it to Scott. However, the deal was prematurely leaked to the press and Booker’s support began to unravel. Scott said he didn’t think he could get approval of sheriffs nationwide, nor in his home state of South Carolina.

With that, negotiations focused on consensus and approval about choke holds, no knock, militarization, and accreditations. They failed to close the deal and get one through on any one of those issues.

“We didn’t feel there was any other place to go. Once Booker pulled the plug and said there was nothing else we can do, Scott went out and accused Democrats of not reaching a deal because they supported defunding the police,” Bass claimed. She stressed that Scott claimed that we (Democrats) were conditioning grants on reform, which is a standard thing that we (Congress) had done and that such conditions were even included in an Executive Order by then-President Donald Trump. The reform mandate in that Executive Order had even been supported by Scott. Bass says Senators used the buzzword, “defund the police” to kill their initial deal that was agreed upon.

“Truth is that every bill we proposed included funding the police, because if we are asking them to be accountable, we are going to have to talk about training, we are going to provide resources for that training. And that’s why some of our activists within our caucus were not happy about the money that would be going to police departments,” she noted. “Most important thing for us to do,” she says, “is to stop the deaths. And I am not saying that all of them are George Floyd-type murder.”

Bass said she looked at over 100 officer-involved deaths over several months after George Floyd died. She said there was a big percentage of those deaths that were police responding to mental health crises.

“And this is a tragedy in our country that we don’t have an adequate mental health system. Families have to resort to a 9-1-1 call and then when police come, they have to pray that their relatives aren’t killed.”

She noted that they added a lot of resources for health and human services to provide co-responders. Bass noted that the Biden Administration is committed to police reform. But, until such reform is finally codified and put into law, nothing likely changes.

Link To Cong. Karen Bass Zoom conference:

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