Weekly Democratic Address
June 12, 2020
Hello, I am Congresswoman Karen Bass and I represent California’s 37th District in Los Angeles. I have the honor of serving as the Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. The Caucus is known as conscience of the Congress. The CBC was established in 1971 and for years, have fought to address police brutality directed at African Americans.
Three weeks ago, the world witnessed a horrific crime on the streets of Minneapolis: the slow, torturous murder of George Floyd. His tragic death has galvanized the entire nation to take a deep look at our history because Black Americans have sadly been marching for over 100 years to bring attention to this gross injustice. Black Americans have been marching against police abuse and for the police to protect and serve our communities, like they do elsewhere.
In the 1950s, news cameras exposed the horror of legalized racism. The news cameras exposed the treatment of people who dared to challenge the system; news cameras exposed to the world that Black Americans did not have the same constitutional protections, that freedom of speech, the right to assemble and protest were not rights extended to African Americans. Seventy years later, it’s the cell phone camera instead of the news camera that has exposed the continuation of violence directed at African Americans by the police.
The sad truth is when people told their stories of police abuse, of murder, at the hands of police officers they simply weren’t believed. It has taken technology and active citizen involvement to document and expose this ugly reality in our country.
But, now, the world is witnessing the birth of a new movement that has spread to many nations around the world, with thousands marching to register their horror at hearing the cry “I can’t breathe” – people marching to demand, not just change, but transformative change that ends police brutality, that ends racial profiling and that denies local jurisdiction the power to fire or prosecute offending officers.
That is why, last Monday, I introduced, along with Chairman Nadler and more than 200 Members of Congress, H.R. 7120, The Justice in Policing Act. This bold, transformative legislation will assist police departments to change the culture of policing, raise the standards of the profession and hold those officers accountable.
Now, I know that change is difficult, but I am certain that police officers, who risk their lives every day, are concerned about their profession and don’t want to work in an environment where they are chastised for intervening when they see a fellow officer abuse a citizen. I am certain police officers would like to be free to stop and intervene an officer from using deadly force when it’s not necessary. And I am certain that police officers want to make sure that they are trained in the “best practices in policing.”
So, to help support officers, this legislation will create the first ever national accreditation standards for the operation of police departments, national standards for officers, and it creates law enforcement development and training programs to establish best practices.
But, despite our best intention, there will be some officers who cross the line. That is why the bill also includes strong accountability measures to keep unfit officers off the street. A profession where you have the power to kill should be a profession that requires highly-trained officers who are accountable to the public.
If the Justice in Policing Act had been the law of the land several years ago, Eric Garner and George Floyd would be alive because the bill bans choke holds. If the bill had been law last year, Breonna Taylor would not have been shot to death in her sleep because no-knock warrants for drug offenses would have been illegal. And, this May, Tamir Rice would have graduated from high school. The officer who killed the twelve year-old child, after an encounter that lasted seconds, had been fired from another department; the Justice in Policing Act calls for a national registry that would have revealed his instability and propensity for violence.
When society does not invest in communities, police officers are left to pick up the pieces. Police officers are the first to say it is unfair, that they are not trained to be social workers or health providers.
Homelessness, mental illness and substance abuse are health and economic problems. The Justice in Policing Act reinvests in our communities and empowers them to shape the future of public safety through grants to community-based organizations to develop innovative solutions.
We all want to be safe in our communities. We all want the police to come to our rescue when we are in trouble. We all want to support the brave men and women who put their lives on the line every day for us. And when we interact with police, we all want and expect to be treated with respect, not suspicion – and we should not be in fear of our life when interacting with officers.
We are here to answer the calls of thousands who are marching.
Today is an opportunity – an opportunity to reimagine public safety so that it is just and equitable for all Americans.