Our American family is experiencing turmoil we have not seen in a generation. Two weeks ago, a tragedy in Dallas, where five police officers were killed and seven more wounded, closed a disturbing week that began with the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philandro Castille.
Then, early this past Sunday, three Baton Rouge police officers were ambushed and killed.
Our nation needs to have a painful, productive conversation on race. But, and I cannot say this any more clearly — killing, injuring or otherwise targeting our law enforcement officers is absolutely unacceptable, and those who do so must face swift justice. We know that the vast majority of our nation’s law enforcement officers are honest, hardworking men and women looking to only do two things: protect and serve.
In my hometown of North Charleston, S.C., I have walked the streets with law enforcement officers early on Christmas morning, hand-delivering presents to children who otherwise probably would not have received anything. We all saw brave officers in Dallas rush to protect the peaceful demonstrators who just minutes before were protesting police brutality. But in spite of the tremendous work done by so many of those who protect us every day, there is a trust gap between the black community and law enforcement. No matter what you are seeing on TV or reading on Twitter, this is an issue that has been growing for years.
Many Americans, including some of my colleagues, were surprised last week when they heard me share stories like this in one of three speeches I delivered from the Senate floor. It was a painful, personal and necessary experience.
In the Senate, where we have specially made lapel pins so that the Capitol Police can identify members of Congress, I have been told, “The pin I know. You, I don’t. Show me your ID.” The pin identifying me as one was not enough. My then-five years walking the halls of Congress as a member of the House, and now the Senate, were not enough. Capitol Police supervisors, even the chief, have apologized to me no less than three times since becoming a senator for incidents like this.
Since I was a teenager, I have felt the fear, anger, sadness and humiliation that only comes when you know you have been wronged even as you’re doing things right. Now, we must come together, not just in government, but in living rooms, schools and neighborhoods across America, to find solutions. It’s time to unclench the angry fists and stop the hand-wringing. Let’s join hands instead. It will be hard. There is no single solution. But there are clear starting points.
On the law enforcement side, police departments interested in purchasing body cameras should have the resources to do so. The FBI should track police-related shootings in a way that provides all of us the clearest picture of what is actually happening. I have introduced legislation to help accomplish both of these goals. In addition, members of the law enforcement community have advocated deescalation training as well as diversity training. We should encourage such steps to improve policing while beginning to close the trust gap.
Additionally, too many communities have been left behind. They see the American dream as only that: a dream. Their sense of abandonment only feeds the despair. We need to build opportunities in underserved communities by focusing on education, job creation and community investment. As someone who grew up in a poor, single-parent household in North Charleston, I can tell you how heavy that sensation to quit becomes and how quickly it overwhelms you. The undertow is too strong for many.
Because, at the core of all of this, is the fact that we cannot solve these issues as Republicans or Democrats. We must recognize that just because you do not feel the pain, the anguish of another, does not mean it doesn’t exist.
America is an amazing place, and our greatness is seen in the progress of her people. My grandfather was born in Salley, S.C., in 1921. He dropped out of elementary school and went to pick cotton instead. He eventually found a job at the Port of Charleston, which did not give our family great resources but did stabilize our foundation.
Now, one of his grandsons is a United States senator. Another just retired as a Command Sergeant Major in the U.S. Army. My grandfather’s American Dream is still unfolding in his great-grandson, my nephew, who has graduated from Georgia Tech and Duke, and is preparing to enter medical school at Emory.
My family went from cotton to Congress in one lifetime. We endured our bumps and bruises, and know that while challenges certainly still remain, we have come a long way. That is the true story of America, and that is what we should be striving for in every community across this great land.
Tim Scott, a Republican, represents South Carolina in the U.S. Senate. This column was first published by USA Today.