WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn delivered emotional and personal remarks Thursday during a Congressional Black Caucus press conference where officials confronted the two most recent national shootings and their connection to a run of fatal encounters between young black men at the hands of law enforcement.
“Black lives do matter,” said the South Carolina Democrat, punctuating each word. “And we here in the Congress must mature enough, grow up enough to have the kinds of adult discussions about the issues that plague us in this country in a way that will allow us to find the common ground that’s necessary to resolve them.”
As the third most senior House Democrat and the highest-ranking black lawmaker on Capitol Hill, Clyburn didn’t need to explicitly connect last year’s North Charleston officer-involved shooting of Walter Scott to this week’s shootings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La., and Philando Castile in St. Paul, Minn.
Each of these three incidents were recorded on video in graphic detail. They share eerie similarities not lost on Clyburn, who has connections to the Scott family in the 6th Congressional District he represents.
“I’ve known Walter Scott’s mother since I was 26 years old. That’s 50 years I’ve know her,” Clyburn said. “One of his surviving brothers is a fraternity brother of mine.”
He also allowed himself to vocalize his fears of what could happen to his 21-year-old grandson.
“I talked to (my grandson) a lot last week. I talked to him about how to conduct himself if he were stopped by a traffic violation; if he is questioned by a police officer,” Clyburn said. “The kind of discussion I ought not to have with my grandson. I should not have to say to my grandson, ‘You got to deny your manhood if you want to ensure that you come home alive.’ ”
Clyburn spoke about growing up in the segregated South and fighting for civil rights in the 1960s, a movement he suggested was not so dissimilar to the burgeoning “Black Lives Matter” movement today. Both fights, he said, were about responding to “indignities,” waged in pursuit of “due process under the heading of justice.”
He recalled the day after he won election to Congress in 1992 and two white people didn’t want to join him in the same elevator. “I was not a newly elected member of Congress. I was a black guy.”
And he brought up Rowena Tobias, a longtime Charlestonian who appears frequently in Clyburn’s discussions on race relations in America.
“She said to me, ‘The reason we have not done better as a state and as a city is because every time the question of race comes up, we stop talking,’ ” Clyburn said. “She said to me on another occasion, ‘I want you to make me a promise. That as you move through life, please, don’t stop talking.’ ”
Emma Dumain is The Post and Courier’s Washington correspondent.