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Rep. Bass on holding police accountable through the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act

Before speaking with President Joe Biden at the White House today, George Floyd's family met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and California Rep. Karen Bass. Bass is the House Democrats' lead negotiator on a police reform bill named after Floyd. The House passed it in March and it has been in the hands of the evenly-divided Senate ever since. Bass joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And members of George Floyd's family also met today with Congresswoman Karen Bass of California. She is the House Democrats' lead negotiator on police reform legislation that was, as we said, named after George Floyd.

    I spoke with her a short time ago.

    Representative Karen Bass, thank you so much for joining us.

    Let me first ask you about your conversation with the George Floyd family. Tell us about it.

  • Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif.:

    Well, this is a very difficult day for the family. Any time there's an anniversary, a birthday or today, commemorating it was one year ago, it's a painful day for them.

    And so our conversation was just them encouraging Congress to finish the job, and also expressing that they thought it was more important that the job be done correctly, rather than rushing to have a bill just to meet a deadline.

    So I was happy to hear that. I was happy to hear to know that they were not disappointed, but that they were encouraged because our talks have been moving forward.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You say they have been moving forward.

    What did you tell them about the status of the talks?

  • Rep. Karen Bass:

    I told them that Senator Booker and Senator Scott and I were talking regularly, that we were examining the comprehensive bill that was passed in the House.

    And, you know, it's almost never that a bill passes the House, goes to the Senate, and nothing changes. So we were also talking about different parts of the bill that they feel are very important, for example, the part of the bill that essentially holds officers accountable.

    What happened to their brother that the entire world witnessed, they never want to see another family go through.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You're referring to something that is called qualified immunity, legal protection for officers.

    You have said that this has to be in the bill. Republicans have said they don't want it in the bill. Where do you see this headed?

  • Rep. Karen Bass:

    Well, it's one of many items that are on the table for us to negotiate. And I'm hoping that we will find a resolution.

    You know, what the bill is about and what this moment in our history is about is really looking at the profession of policing and modernizing it. You know, the profession that has the ability to take away your freedom and take away your life really should meet the highest of standards, should be transparent, should hold each other accountable.

    If an officer sees another officer brutalizing someone, then they have a legal obligation to intervene. That's one of the provisions in the bill. We have 18,000 police departments across the country, and 18,000 different ways of doing policing.

    Any profession that reaches that point needs to have national standards, national accreditation. And so that's what we have been talking about.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Is there, though, Congresswoman Bass, a middle ground when it comes to this sort of legal protection? Could it be protection for the department, which we know has been raised by some?

  • Rep. Karen Bass:

    Well, that is one of the options that we're examining.

    But there's also the issue of holding officers accountable and being able to prosecute an officer. You know, one of the things that is so painful for families and communities when they see incident after incident, tape after tape, and then the officers aren't even prosecuted, they don't even file charges.

    And that's because the standard to file charges to prosecute an officer is so high that they walk away with no charges. And so the overall point is accountability, whether it's qualified immunity, whether it's how you prosecute, whether it's having a registry where officers who are bad can't just bounce from department to department.

    You know, we have seen several egregious cases recently, and we have seen that the officers have either resigned or they're fired. But I think what most people don't realize is, all they have to do is just go down the road to another town and be right back on a police force, having no accountability for whatever bad actions they took in their last job.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, do I hear you saying there may be another way to hold officers accountable that could be a work-around when it comes to qualified immunity?

  • Rep. Karen Bass:

    Well, right now, what is on the table is qualified immunity. If my colleagues, whether it's Senator Scott or someone else, can show how we can keep an officer accountable, then I'm open to hear it. I haven't heard it so far.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Is that what they're working on?

  • Rep. Karen Bass:

    So, right now, it's qualified immunity.

    It might be. It might be. There absolutely have been discussions. And maybe, in our next meeting, I will hear some other alternatives. But I just can't emphasize enough, right now, qualified immunity is what is on the table.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you said at the beginning the Floyd family is asking — is saying what comes from these negotiations is more important than the speed.

  • Rep. Karen Bass:


  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, do I understand you to say this could drag on for some time?

  • Rep. Karen Bass:

    Well, I think that, while we obviously did not meet the deadline today, I don't believe it's going to drag on for months.

    I do think we need more time. I don't think it makes sense to set a deadline right now, because I would just be making one up. But I can tell you that we have made significant progress, and I am hoping that we will be able to get this job done shortly.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But is it your sense, I mean, just to go back to this question about holding officers accountable, that there may be give on the part of Republicans on that?

  • Rep. Karen Bass:

    Well, I mean, I think all of us come to the negotiating table with an open mind. We have to. Otherwise, there's no point in negotiating. You can just submit your opinions and then walk away.

    And so I think, on both sides, there's an open mind and there's a willingness to say, OK, if not this, then that. But show me. So, right now, Section 242, lowering the standard to prosecute an officer, also qualified immunity, are still on the table.

    But there's many, many, many other aspects of the bill that we are also talking about, having national standards, national accreditation, banning no-knock, banning choke holds, having a registry for bad officers, providing grants to communities, so that they can reenvision public safety.

    What does it need? What does a community need to be safe?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    In the last analysis, at this point, Congresswoman, do you think there will be a bill that passes the Senate?

  • Rep. Karen Bass:

    Oh, I do think there will be a bill that passes the Senate. I believe that President Biden will have a bill to sign.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right, we will leave it there, and we will continue to follow it very closely.

    Thank you so much, Congresswoman Karen Bass.

  • Rep. Karen Bass:

    All right, thank you.

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