WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Tim Scott was stopped by police officers seven times in one year. He’s frequently told that he’s suspected of driving a stolen vehicle.
While a local official back in Charleston, the hosts of a public event were reluctant to invite him inside. And as a six-year member of Congress, the South Carolina Republican has on multiple occasions been denied entry into congressional office buildings even though he wears an identification pin on the lapel of his suit jacket.
“ ‘The pin I recognize. You, I don’t,’ ” Scott recalled being told by one member of the U.S. Capitol Police. Scott was forced to produce further identification.
“Keep in mind,” Scott quipped, “I’m one of the easier senators to recognize.”
Scott is one of only two black lawmakers currently serving in the U.S. Senate. After last week’s fatal confrontations between black men and law enforcement officers in the nation’s heartland, he felt compelled to do something in response.
“I shuddered when I heard Eric Garner saying ‘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 of Philando Castile’s girlfriend tell her mother, ‘It’s OK. I’m right here with you,’ ” said Scott, referencing three of the dozens of black men killed by policemen over the past two years.
Scott found an outlet for his pain in a series of scheduled floor speeches this week aimed at starting an honest, if also difficult, conversation about race relations in the United States. His first speech Monday focused on how the wrongful actions of police officers should not overshadow the heroism of others. On Wednesday, Scott expounded on the theme in deeply personal terms.
“While, thank God, I have not endured bodily harm, I have felt the pressure applied by the scales of justice when they are slanted,” he said. “I have felt the anger, frustration, sadness and humiliation that comes with feeling like you’re being targeted for nothing more than being yourself.”
In addition to sharing his own experiences being profiled by law enforcement because of his skin color, he mentioned his brother, a sergeant major in the Army, who was accused of stealing his Volvo on a road trip from Texas to Charleston. He also spoke of a former staffer who was stopped so many times he felt compelled to buy a different automobile to avoid further scrutiny.
“I do not know many black men who don’t have a story like one of these,” Scott said.
Scott said his final speech set for Thursday will offer some ideas for how the so-called “American family” can heal from recent tragic events. He told The Post and Courier earlier this week the solutions would be policy-driven, as well as people-focused. He suggested he didn’t have one fix-all answer to the racial problems facing the country but hoped his speeches would at least contribute to the process of solving the crisis.
“Today, I simply ask of you this: Recognize that just because you do not feel the pain, the anguish of another, does not mean it does not exist,” Scott said. “To ignore their struggles does not make them disappear, it simply leaves you blind and the American family very vulnerable.”
Scott found support for his words from several sources, including from across the political aisle. At the conclusion of his remarks U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., thanked him and the body’s other black senator, Democrat Cory Booker from New Jersey, for speaking from personal experience to illuminate real-world issues for a largely homogenous governing body.
“We need more diversity here,” Boxer said. Hearing their stories, she added, “is life-changing for us.”
Emma Dumain is The Post and Courier’s Washington correspondent.