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Following Protests, Democrats To Unveil Police Overhaul Measure

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: What do we want?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Justice.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: When do we want it?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Now.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Black lives matter. Black lives matter. Black lives matter. Black lives matter.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Those are the voices of protesters in Philadelphia and San Francisco over the weekend, just two of the many cities that saw more demonstrations calling for racial justice and police reform. The public outcry over the killing of George Floyd is having an impact. In Minneapolis, some members of the city council - a majority, in fact - have pledged to dismantle that city's police department. And here in Washington this morning, House Democrats will unveil legislation that would bring big changes to police departments across the country.

The chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Democratic Congresswoman Karen Bass of California, is leading that effort. And we have her on the line this morning. Congresswoman, thank you so much.

KAREN BASS: Sure.

MARTIN: What is the biggest change that you hope this bill will bring?

BASS: The biggest change is a change in police culture - no question about it - raising the standards, having national certification and raising the level of policing in the United States so that it is like many other professions. Teachers have to be certified - doctors, nurses, lawyers. The profession that has the power to kill should be a profession that has national standards, is transparent and is accountable to the public.

MARTIN: There's a lot in the details here. According to NPR's reporting, the bill would ban chokeholds. It would limit immunity protections for police officers, create a national misconduct registry for police officers. We know how hard it is to get legislation passed in Congress in this political climate. Given how extensive the legislation is, I mean, does that limit your ability to get something done quickly?

BASS: I don't know. I don't believe so. I think that Congress will respond to this national and, frankly, international movement that we have seen develop in the last few weeks. And so I'm very hopeful. I happen to believe that the best way change occurs is inside and with an outside push, especially when you are talking about change involving issues of social and racial and economic justice. There needs to be that movement outside pushing. And that movement that is pushing is growing day by day, and I have just been thrilled at watching its expansion and its diversity. It is clearly a rainbow that is outraged at what has been happening in the United States.

MARTIN: Are there Republicans in the rainbow? I mean, we saw Mitt Romney marching in the crowds - a lone Republican, as he often is on a lot of issues recently. But you're going to need Republican support, especially in the Senate. Do you have any?

BASS: Absolutely. I believe that we will reach bipartisan support. My two colleagues over in the Senate, Senator Harris and Senator Booker, are definitely working hard over there for Republican support. And we will see. I mean, you know, once you introduce a bill, then the work of building support actually begins.

MARTIN: Is it appropriate for you - or maybe you have already - reached out to people like Tim Scott, Lindsey Graham in the Senate or Doug Collins from the House who were all key Republicans on criminal justice reform? Is this the moment to try to recreate a - the coalition that helped pass that?

BASS: Absolutely, we are going to. Now, I will tell you that the work began last week. But that was before there was a bill. So I had a Zoom meeting (laughter) with the Problem Solvers Caucus, which is 50-50 - 50% Democrats, 50% Republicans. There was a lot of interest in the concepts, but now the rubber hits the road. And so we will go back, talk to the same people and present the actual bill language.

So I am hopeful. I'm hopeful that we'll be able to recreate that coalition knowing that we have Senator Harris and Senator Booker over there working the Senate. And they were definitely involved and led the way when we did First Step and built that coalition. So I'm looking forward to that.

I think that my colleagues on either side of the aisle believes that in the United States of America in 2020, there is no excuse for a police department to commit open public acts of abusing the human rights of Americans.

MARTIN: There have been, as you know, calls to defund the police in these protests now. And we saw members of the city council in Minneapolis announce their intent, over the weekend, to disband their police department. Do you support that idea, these types of actions?

BASS: No, I do not support defunding the police. But here is what I support very strongly. I do believe that one of the main reasons that cry is out there is because our budgets are out of balance. Even if you're talking about the national budget, why is it that we always have money for defense - even sometimes when the military doesn't want the resources we give them? Why is it that police budgets usually are so much larger than budgets for education, health and human services? And so we need to look at the root causes of why policing is needed in communities. What - if it's crime, then why is there crime? Why are people committing crimes? We need to get at the root causes - I absolutely agree with that. I believe that we need massive resources in the area of human and social services.

MARTIN: But defunding the police or disbanding police departments in their current iteration, you think that's a bridge too far.

BASS: Defunding police departments, disbanding police departments, I don't believe is the appropriate thing to do right now.

MARTIN: Democratic Congresswoman Karen Bass of California. She is also the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.