Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Stephen Colbert interviews the congresswoman set to unveil sweeping police reform on Monday

Stephen Colbert, Rep. Karen Bass
Stephen Colbert, Rep. Karen Bass
Screenshot: The Late Show

Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) appeared remotely on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert (rechristened The Late Show With Stephen At Home for the foreseeable future), explaining how her district is a daily example of how there are two types of policing in America. Noting that the California 37th she represents encompasses affluent, predominantly-white areas (Westwood, Century City) right alongside South Central Los Angeles, Congresswoman Bass said that she’s confronted with the daily reality of police switching from “protect and serve” to “a warrior mentality” as they traverse her legislative turf. Not that the longtime public servant and community organizer needs any further evidence of racial bias in policing, but, as she expressed to Colbert regarding the protests against police violence in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by a white cop, “How many people have to be killed on video?”

Indeed. But Rep. Bass isn’t just another American suffering “anguish” and fatigue” from the never-ending obituaries of black men and women killed by chokeholds, no-knock warrants (she and Colbert mourned Breonna Taylor, shot eight times by Louisville police while she slept), and every other goddamn thing the whole world is watching as cell phone cameras become citizens most potent tools for exposing police violence. The congresswoman is also the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus who, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s support, is introducing some vital, sure-to-piss-off-the-right-people police reform legislation in both houses of Congress on Monday.

“They can be banned, just like chokeholds (like the one Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin used on George Floyd for eight-plus agonizing minutes) can be banned,” said Bass, matter-of-factly about no-knock warrants, one target of the proposed bill. The congresswoman was also adamant that police departments and unions should be stripped of their unprecedented professional secrecy regarding “problematic officers,” whose past histories of excessive force, racial bias, or termination are routinely shielded when they hop towns, enabling them to simply move to a new community and resume dangerously questionable policing there. Bass pointed to Timothy Loehmann, the officer who shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice in 2014 for holding a toy gun, and who had been fired from another police department just months before for, according to his never-shared personnel file, “a pattern of a lack of maturity, indiscretion and not following instructions.” Said Bass to Colbert, a “national database” of police officers’ employment history in law enforcement would be a cornerstone of Monday’s bill.

Of course, the Republican Party (and police unions) is what stands in the way of actually enacting such common-sense, first-step police reforms (what with the entire GOP platform at this point consisting of “fear of black people” with a side of voter suppression and tax cuts for billionaires). But Bass is guardedly optimistic, let’s call it? Telling Colbert that her recent meeting with the optimistically named and bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus saw even GOP lawmakers at least expressing human-style horror at the filmed murder of George Floyd, Bass had hopes that, “when the rubber meets the road,” her colleagues’ sentiments will carry over into actual action. Hey, it could happen.


As to Colbert’s parting question about Donald Trump calling the recent social justice protests outside the White House (that sent him scurrying into his panic bunker) “not real,” Bass—unlike her concrete plans for police reform—could only throw up her hands in frustration. “What would I have to say to him at this point?,” Bass said of the—let’s say “president,” for accuracy’s sake. “I mean, I don’t even know at this point.” Look, Rep. Bass is a congresswoman, not a psychologist. Anyway, light up your lawmakers’ phones—Bass’ bill hits both floors on Monday.

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Danny Peary's Cult Movies books are mostly to blame.

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