WASHINGTON — Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) revealed today that he’s been stopped seven times in the past year by law enforcement for “trivial” reasons in a highly personal speech focusing on experiences of black men and police stops.
Scott called it his “most difficult” floor speech of the week because “it’s the most personal.”
The senator said most police “have two things on their minds: protect and serve.”
However, he added, “we do have serious issues that must be resolved” — the “deep divide” between the black community and law enforcement in many cities, “a trust gap” and “tension that has been growing for decades.”
“And as a family, one American family, we cannot ignore these issues.”
Stressing that Americans should be “thankful” for the good job most police officers do, Scott added that “some do not” do a good job.
“I’ve experienced it myself,” he said. “… I shuddered when I heard Eric Garner say, ‘I can’t breathe.’ I wept when I watched Walter Scott turn and run away and get shot and killed from the back. And I broke when I heard the 4-year-old daughter of Philando Castile’s girlfriend tell her mother, ‘It’s OK; I’m right here with you.'”
“These are people lost forever. Fathers, brothers, sons. Some will say and maybe even scream, ‘But they had criminal records! They were criminals! They spent time in jail!’ And while having a record should not sentence you to death, I say, OK then — I will share with you some of my own experiences or the experiences of good friends or other professionals.”
Scott described the first time he was pulled over as a youth for a headlight not working properly and said he felt “very scared.”
The senator then jumped ahead to experiences he’s had with law enforcement while an elected official.
“In the course of one year, I’ve been stopped seven times by law enforcement officers,” Scott said. “…Was I speeding sometimes? Sure.” Scott held up two fingers. “But the vast majority of time, I was pulled over for nothing more than driving a new car in the wrong neighborhood or some other reason just as trivial.”
One of the times, Scott added, he’d left the National Mall and was followed by a police car through four different left turns to reach his apartment. The officer pulled him over for allegedly not using his turn signal on the fourth turn.
“Keep in mind, as you might imagine, I was paying very close attention to the law enforcement officer who followed me on four turns,” he said. “Do you really think that somehow I forgot to use my turn signal on that fourth turn?”
Scott described another time driving late in the afternoon when an officer pulled him over. “He starts telling me, he thinks perhaps the car is stolen,” he said. “Well, I started asking myself… is the license plate coming in as stolen? Does the license plate match the car? I was looking for some rational reason that may have prompted him to stopping me.”
He added a story of his brother, pulled over because he was driving a Volvo and the officer thought it might be stolen, and the story of a young staffer who was pulled over in D.C. many times “for no reason other than he was driving a nice car — he sold that car and bought a more obscure form of transportation; he was tired of being targeted.”
“I do not know many African-American men who do not have a very similar story to tell no matter their profession, no matter their income, no matter their disposition in life… imagine the frustration, the irritation, the sense of a loss of dignity that accompanies each of those stops.”
Despite wearing his member of Congress pin — and having served in the House or Senate for five years at that point — Scott described an incident last year when he was trying to enter an office building and an officer “full of attitude” pointed at the senator and said, “‘The pin I know; you, I don’t. Show me your ID.'”
“I’ll tell you, I was thinking to myself, either he thinks I’m committing a crime impersonating a member of Congress, or — or what?”
Scott received a phone call and an apology that evening from the officer’s supervisor.
In fact, the South Carolina lawmaker has received three separate Capitol Police apologies for various interactions since he’s been in the Senate.
“So while I thank God I have not endured bodily harm, I have, however, felt the pressure applied by the scales of justice when they are slanted. I have felt the anger, the frustration, the sadness and the humiliation that comes with feeling like you’re being targeted for nothing more than being just yourself.”
The senator emphasized that his personal stories should not be construed as offering any excuse to harm any member of law enforcement.
Incidents of African-Americans being singled out by law enforcement “may not happen a thousand times a day, but it happens too many times a day.”
“We must find a way to fill these cracks in the very foundation of our country,” Scott said.
“Recognize that just because you do not feel the anguish, the pain 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. 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.”