WASHINGTON – Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina — who is the only African-American Republican in U.S. Senate — delivered an emotional floor speech Wednesday about the unfair police scrutiny he has faced over his life because he is a black man.
“In the course of one year, I’ve been stopped seven times by law enforcement,” Scott said. “Not four, not five, not six, but seven times in one year as an elected official.”
The speech was the second of three the conservative first-term senator is delivering this week related to the fatal shootings of two African-American men by white police officers and the sniper attack that killed five Dallas police officers by a black man angry over police mistreatment of African-Americans.
Scott described this speech as “the most difficult because it is the most personal.”
“In many cities and towns across America, there is a deep divide between the black community and law enforcement. A trust gap, a tension that has been growing for decades. And as a family, one American family, we cannot ignore these issues,” Scott said.
“I can certainly remember the very first time that I was pulled over by a police officer as just a youngster. I was driving a car that had an improper headlight,” Scott said. “The cop came over to my car, hand on his gun and said, ‘Boy, don’t you know your headlight is not working properly?’ I felt embarrassed, ashamed, and scared, very scared.”
Holding up two fingers, Scott said there were times when he was pulled over that he was speeding.
“But the vast majority of the time I was pulled over for nothing more than driving a new car in the wrong neighborhood or some other reason just as trivial,” he said.
Scott described drawing the attention of a police officer once as he drove out of a shopping mall. The cop pulled right behind Scott and followed him as he drove home, taking three left turns along the way.
“Finally, I took a fourth left coming into my apartment complex and then the blue lights went on. The officer approached the car and said that I did not — I did not use my turn signal on the fourth turn,” Scott said. “Do you really think that somehow I forgot to use my turn signal on the fourth turn?”
Another time Scott says he was pulled over by an officer who accused him of stealing the car he was driving. The senator recounted how his brother, who was a high-ranking enlisted man in the Army, was accused of the same thing when he was driving home one day in a Volvo.
Scott also described the plight of a former staffer who sold his “nice car” because he was so “tired of being targeted” by suspicious police.
“Imagine the frustration, the irritation, the sense of loss of dignity that accompanies each of those stops, even here on Capitol Hill,” Scott said.
Scott said he has even faced problems with U.S. Capitol Police as he has arrived at work. The officers are trained to recognize all lawmakers but Scott said he has faced “attitude” and forced to show his identification to get in. On three separate occasions, he has received calls of apology from a supervisor or the chief of the Capitol Police over the way he was treated, Scott said.
In his speech, Scott also praised police and the dangerous work they do.
“There is never, ever an acceptable reason to harm a member of our law enforcement community,” he said.
At the end of his speech, Scott pleaded with Americans who don’t face racism not to ignore the plight of those who do.
“Recognize that just because you do not feel the pain, the anguish of another, does not mean it does not exist. To ignore their struggles, our struggles, does not make them disappear. It simply leaves you blind and the American family very vulnerable,” he said.
“Some search so hard to explain away injustice that they are slowly wiping away who we are as a nation. But we must come together to fulfill what we all know is possible here in America: Peace, love, and understanding. Fairness,” Scott said.
By Ted Barrett, CNN