Sen. Tim Scott Speaks on Senate Floor on Race Relations and Police Reform

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Tim Scott, in a raw and tearful speech, shared his reflections on the anniversary of the Mother Emanuel Shooting from 2015 and race relations on the Senate Floor. Joined by his GOP colleagues, Scott introduced the JUSTICE Act, his legislation addressing police reform across America. 

Below is the senator’s full speech accompanied by a transcript of his remarks.


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Transcript as delivered

Mr. President, this morning – I woke up this morning, Mr. President, Wednesday morning, June 17, 2020. For so many Americans, this is just another Wednesday morning. You wake up; you get ready for work. Not in South Carolina.

In South Carolina, this Wednesday, June 17, is the fifth anniversary of when a racist walked into Mother Emmanuel Church — and sat through a Bible study for an hour, and listened to believers talk about their love of God.

At the end of that Bible study, pulled out a weapon and killed nine people. So for me, and so many South Carolinians, this is a hard day.

I’ll tell you, Mr. President, that standing on this floor, remembering the words of one of the victims’ sons, Daniel Simmons Jr., five years ago, a Wednesday had passed, one week later, and I asked Daniel Simmons Jr., whose father Daniel Simmons Sr. had been killed in an attempt to start another race war at the home of the Civil War – I asked him, “What should I say to the people who will be watching around the country?” He said what I could not believe, which was, “please remind them of Romans 8:28, that all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.”

I was standing at those doors on my cell phone; I could not believe the words he was speaking. And in an act of true unconditional love, he inspired me, he encouraged me, he taught me lessons of strength and courage and mercy our nation needs to remember.

And I came to the floor today, Mr. President, to speak about my new bill, the Justice Act, our Republican response to the police reform. And I was sitting in my office when the Senator from Illinois talked about the token legislation.

On this day, the day that we remember Mother Emmanuel Church and the nine lost lives, my friend, the pastor of the church Clementa Pinckney, the first person ever to call me a Senator, a Democrat Pastor of that church says to me, “my Senator.” 2012, December.

To reflect back on the fact that I have in my phone today the text to Clementa where I said “are you okay? “He didn’t answer. Because he was already dead.

To think that on this day as we try to make sure that fewer people lose confidence in this nation – to have the Senator from Illinois refer to this process, this bill, this opportunity to restore hope and confidence and trust from the American people, from African Americans, from communities of color – to call this a token process hurts my soul for my country, for our people. To think that the concept of anti-lynching as a part of this legislation to be considered a token piece of legislation because perhaps I’m African American, the only one on this side of the aisle, I don’t know what he meant, but I can tell you that, this day, to have those comments again hurts the soul.

To think about how the same year in 2015, Walter Scott in my hometown of North Charleston, running away from the police, gets shot five times in the back. I sponsored legislation then, and I don’t remember a single person saying a single thing on that side of the aisle about helping to push forward more legislation on body cameras. But today this is a token piece of legislation.

Because I think it’s important that we stand up and be counted and make sure that we have more resources available for every single officer to have a body camera, because as we saw in Georgia with Mr. Arbery, had it not been caught on video, in Walter Scott’s case, had it not been caught on video, in George Floyd’s case, had it not been caught on video, we might be in a different place.

But on the other side, they are wanting to race bait on tokenism, while this legislation would provide resources for body cameras, for anti-lynching, for de-escalation training. But no, we can’t concern ourselves with the families I sat with at the White House yesterday and in my office yesterday.

Instead, we want to play politics because this is 2020 and we’re far more concerned about winning elections than we are about having a serious conversation on reform in this country.

No, we would rather have a conversation about tearing this country apart, making it a binary choice between law enforcement and communities of color instead of working for the American people, bringing the reforms to the table so that we have a chance to balance this nation and direct her towards due north. No, that’s too much to ask on June 17, five years later.

I started this conversation on body cameras in 2015, on the Walter Scott Notification Act in 2015, but no, we want to have a political conversation. I reject that. I reject that. And I will tell you that I believe that my friends on the other side of the aisle are serious about police reform. There are just some that are more interested at scoring political points than they actually are getting a result. Not the majority of them.

The majority of them have the same heart that we have for the American people. That’s where we should be focusing our attention, not the color of my skin. Not tokens. Cool, when you’re out in the public. I get it all the time on twitter. I’m used to it. But on this day, my heart aches for my state. My heart aches for my uncle’s church for 50 years before he passed. And so I’m a little riled up.

I sit here quietly trying to pass good legislation that was based on the House bill because I knew that if I wanted a chance to get something done, we had to do it in a bipartisan fashion. I’m not running for anything. I’m not up for reelection. I’m not trying to support someone for their victory. I’m simply saying to the families I met with yesterday at the White House, without a camera, and in my office yesterday, without a camera, I hear you. We see you. You are not simply sitting there silent. We are working on serious, tangible, measurable results. Why is that not enough? Why can’t we just disagree on the three or four items that we disagree upon? Why can’t I say what I’ve been saying, which is that the House bill is, in fact, the blueprint for some progress?

It goes too far for me in some areas, but, yes, I like the concept of more information. This is a good thing. The House does it. We do it. That’s a good thing. I like the concept of more training. The House does it. We do it. I like the fact that we’re looking for a way to ban chokeholds. We do it by taking money from different departments. They do it in a different fashion, but we’re about 90% there. But where do we go? Where do we go?  

People wonder why our country’s so divided? Because it’s so easy to walk on this floor and say “token” and send the same race-baiting message that we’ve heard for a very long time. But, if you’re a democrat, hey, it’s okay. It’s not ever okay.

It’s not okay to say to our kids, you can’t think what you want to think and be who you want to be if you’re not in line with one place and the way they think. That’s bad news, then you’re a sellout. What message do you send to kids? I’m going to be okay. But what message are we sending to kids? They are our country. You can’t be taught just to think. We have to teach you how to think.

That’s the kind of conclusion that is wrong. It’s toxic. It’s pushing our country towards an implosion that is avoidable. That’s why I started my legislative day today with remembering Mother Emanuel. It’s why I read my Bible because I knew I needed a little extra strength. It is why I turned immediately to my first interview trying to talk about police reform. Because as a guy who’s been stopped 18 times in the 2000’s, I take it seriously – being stopped in year, being stopped this year, being stopped last November, being stopped coming into the Senate with my pin on – sure, I get it.  

But I don’t point fingers at the other side saying that they’re just not serious about the issue. This is not what we should do. I assume that everybody should be serious about the issue.

But, Mr. President, I got to tell you, it’s with a heavy heart – it’s with a heavy heart that I believe that, had we had more money for body cameras, we’d be in a different position today than we were in 2015, but I didn’t have anybody who wanted to have this conversation – or at least we didn’t have this conversation. 

I believe that there are good people of good intent on the other side of the aisle. I think there are good people of good intent on our side of the aisle. I think the fact of the matter is that most Americans are tired of Republicans and Democrats talking about Republicans and Democrats.

I think most Americans are tired of us talking about election outcomes and polls. “What about me?” is what they are saying. I’m suggesting that this bill, the Justice Act, is a serious nationwide effort tackling the issues of police reform, accountability, and transparency.

It is grounded in bipartisan principles because I believe the other side has some stuff we have to hear and that our side has some stuff they need to hear. And if we do that, we’ll have the votes to have a real debate next week on this bill. But if we don’t do that, we’ll just talk about scoring political points.

You’ll go on MSNBC or CNN and we’ll go on FOX and everybody have their chatter, and more people in communities of color will have less confidence in the institutions of power and authority in this nation because we missed the moment. We missed it five years ago. We don’t have to miss it now.

Mr. President, as you know, I’m not really into theatrics. I don’t run towards microphones. I’ve had a lot of them these last seven days. I don’t talk a lot in conference because why say what other people are saying? And they probably said it better. I don’t demonize the other side because I know in order to get anything done in the Senate you have to have 60 votes. And plus, if you have a grievance with your brother, talk to him. Talk to him. I’ve tried to do that. Mr. President, as I’m sure I’ve gone over my time, let me just say that to the families I sat down with yesterday, they don’t think working on body cameras is a token experience. They don’t think sitting down with the president of the United States with their tears filling their eyes, running down their cheeks, talking about their lost loved ones is a token experience.

The law enforcement officers in that meeting with those families do not believe that having a serious conversation about police reform is a token experience. They don’t believe that co-responders for the one man who was in the room whose son was having a mental episode who was shot on the scene, he doesn’t think this is a token experience.

Shame on us. Shame on us if we are unwilling to have a serious conversation about a serious issue that, in my opinion, is a greater threat to this nation than perhaps anything we’ve seen because we’ve never solved it, because we’re all having political points. That’s wrong. It’s just not right.

Let me say, Mr. President, to all my colleagues, Senator Lankford, Senator Capito, Sasse, Lindsey, Barrasso, Alexander, thank you. Thank you for giving voice to a serious issue.