Black GOP Senator Talks About Being Pulled Over By Police 7 Times In One Year

"This is a situation that happens all across the country," Sen. Tim Scott said, "whether we want to recognize it or not."

14/07/2016 9:20 AM AEST | Updated 16/07/2016 4:06 AM AEST
Gary Cameron / Reuters
Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) shakes hands with Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) at a news conference on criminal justice reform, Oct. 1, 2015.

WASHINGTON ― In the course of one year as an elected official, Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) was pulled over seven times by law enforcement. Another time, a Capitol Police officer demanded that Scott show him his ID because the special pin on Scott’s suit jacket ― a pin assigned to United States senators ― evidently wasn’t enough.

Scott shared these stories and more Wednesday evening during a roughly 18-minute speech on the Senate floor. He is the only black senator in the Republican conference, and one of just two in the upper chamber.

His speech on Wednesday was the second in a series of three in response to a lone gunman killing five police officers in Dallas last week, as well as the police shootings of Alton Sterling, who was killed outside a convenience store in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Philando Castile, who was shot during a traffic stop in Minnesota. Scott delivered his first speech on Tuesday and plans to deliver the final one Thursday.

This speech is perhaps the most difficult, because it’s the most personal,” Scott said during his Wednesday remarks. 

Scott’s address on Wednesday came after four other senators urged their colleagues to take a vote on criminal justice reform ― something many lawmakers say is badly needed.

“There is a deep divide between the black community and law enforcement ― a trust gap,” Scott said. “We cannot ignore these issues. Because while so many officers do good ― and we should be very thankful in support of all those officers that do good ― some simply do not. I’ve experienced it myself.”

Scott said he chose to talk about his encounters with police, experiences that left him feeling humiliated and “very scared,” because he’s heard people trying to paint Castile and Walter Scott ― a black man who was killed by a police officer in South Carolina last year while running away ― as criminals.  

“OK, then,” Scott said. “I will share with you some of my own experiences.”

He continued:

I shuddered when I heard Eric Garner say “I cannot breathe.” I wept when I watched Walter Scott turn and run away and get shot and killed. 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”...

In the course of one year, I’ve been stopped seven times by law enforcement officers. Not four, not five, not six, but seven times in one year as an elected official. Was I speeding sometimes? Sure. But the vast majority of the times, I was pulled over for nothing more than driving a new car in the wrong neighborhood, or some other reason just as trivial...

It’s easy to identify a U.S. senator by our pin. I recall walking into an office building just last year after being here for five years on the Capitol, and the officer looked at me, with a little attitude, 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? Well, I’ll tell you that later that evening I received a phone call from his supervisor apologizing for the behavior. Mr. President, that is at least the third phone call that I’ve received from a supervisor or the chief of police since I’ve been in the Senate.

Scott is hardly alone. When The Huffington Post asked several black congressmen about their experiences with racism after the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin, they had remarkably similar stories to tell.

Scott went on to tell another story of when he was invited to an event with two of his staffers and two officers. “All four were white, and me,” he said.

When they arrived, the organizers didn’t want to let Scott in, but they allowed everyone else. The officers refused to go in without him.

“This is a situation that happens all across the country, whether we want to recognize it or not,” Scott said. “It may not happen 1,000 times a day, but it happens too many times a day.”

Scott ended his speech by calling on his colleagues to “recognize that just because you do not feel the pain, the anguish, of another does not mean it does not exist.”

Ignoring it, he said, will only leave people “blind,” and the nation “very vulnerable.”

As Scott began to walk off the floor, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who was scheduled to speak next on a different topic, took a moment to praise the South Carolina senator for his “frank discussion.”  

“We don’t have enough diversity here,” Boxer said. “Let me just be clear: As much as all of us want to walk in each other’s shoes, because each of us has different experiences in our lives, it really matters who’s in the room, who’s at the microphone and who’s sharing the truth. And you have shared a truth with us today.”

Watch Scott’s speech above.

CORRECTION: Due to an editing error, this story originally misstated the year of Trayvon Martin’s death. It was 2012, not 2013.

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