ICYMI: Q&A with Sen. Tim Scott, GOP point person on police reform

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Tim Scott (R-S.C.) sat down with The Christian Science Monitor to discuss his years-long work on police reform and his views on justice, race, and healing in America. Read excerpts from the interview below.

Q&A: Sen. Tim Scott, GOP point person on police reform
The Christian Science Monitor
By Christa Case Bryant
August 12, 2021

Sen. Tim Scott’s vivid socks stand out in a sea of black and gray on Capitol Hill, and so do his views on police reform. 

As the Senate’s sole Black Republican, he has addressed incredulity about the prevalence of police discrimination, detailing his own experiences from the Senate floor – including being held up by police on Capitol Hill, where senators normally move freely through security checkpoints without showing ID. 

Yet he also sees law enforcement as a “noble” profession. That’s shaped in part by having watched the sons of his influential youth mentor, a white Chick-fil-A operator, become police officers. And as someone raised by a single mother, whose safety he worried about as she would return home late at night from work, Senator Scott places a premium on safeguarding communities. He opposes defunding the police, taking particular issue with liberal activists who didn’t grow up in poor minority communities like his.

Last year, Senate Democrats blocked his police reform bill in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, saying it didn’t go far enough. In recent months, Senator Scott and Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, a Democrat, have been working on new police reform legislation… The senators are still chipping away at the details of their bill.

Senator Scott sat down with the Monitor in hot pink socks to discuss his vision for police reform and justice in America at a time of national reckoning – or, as he puts it, a national “wave of opportunity.”

The questions and answers that follow have been condensed, and lightly edited for clarity.

On a personal level, how have you worked through the anger and humiliation that many would feel in the face of police discrimination, in a way that doesn’t seem to have tainted your view of America?

What I shared on the [Senate] floor was a lifetime of really bad experiences. And at the same time I think having perspective about it all is really important. I don’t know that you can actually just put your sense of humiliation and disrespect in a corner and it doesn’t filter in. … But you can have some really negative interactions and come to the conclusion that stereotyping them all is kind of like them stereotyping me.

I remember talking at the National Action Network run by Rev. [Al] Sharpton about being followed around a clothing store by this young lady. I have good peripheral vision because I used to be a running back, and I see her coming and I thought she was maybe someone who wanted to take a picture. (I was a senator at this time.) She was actually just making sure I wasn’t stealing anything. 

I said, “How many of y’all understand that?” They were all frustrated; you could feel the temperature going up. I said, “That’s exactly how a Republican feels when you walk into a room like this, because everybody’s stereotyping,” and they were like, “Oh, you got us.” 

We should all understand the sting of being stereotyped. So if I don’t want to stereotype, if I don’t want Black people to be stereotyped, and if I don’t want Republicans to be stereotyped, why would I stereotype all cops? It’s just unhelpful.

How do you think we as a country can achieve real justice, and do forgiveness and reconciliation play a role?

It’s a good question. I will say that you cannot wait until you have justice to have forgiveness. I think about Charleston’s Mother Emanuel church shooting [in 2015] – 36 hours later, there was no justice … but those nine family representatives all said [to the shooter], “We forgive you.” 

The path to justice does require reconciliation, but not one party to the other, but within one’s own heart. 

The justice system that we have here in America becoming more fair is really important. And that means being able to have self-awareness as a country. George Floyd brought that to us in a way that nothing else has in my lifetime. You heard and felt and sensed that people understood that the inconsistent application of our justice system leads to real dysfunction amongst our people.

In your book “Opportunity Knocks,” you talk about wanting to positively impact a billion people with a message of hope and opportunity. That’s obviously far more people than live in the United States. Do you see your work on police reform as helping not only our American family, as you call it, but also our global family?

Forgive me for being naive, but I do think who we are as Americans sets the pace for the rest of the world. I want to make sure that we export the best of who we are, for the rest of the world to see, and that includes our justice system.

What does it say when you can measure the outcomes by the color of your skin? It says something bad, or at least insidious.

To the extent that we’re able to improve the overall effectiveness of our justice system is to improve the overall fairness of our justice system. I feel like I’m called to that.

I want a fair justice system, but not one that seeks to discriminate against somebody else for the discrimination of the past. … That’s not fair either… 

Click here to read the full interview.