Sen. Tim Scott: Passage of First Step Act a victory for criminal justice reform

GREENVILLE, SC (FOX Carolina) – Republican senator Tim Scott is counting the recent passage of new legislation as a win for criminal justice reform.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate passed the First Step Act, a bipartisan effort aimed at curbing recidivism and, in Scott’s words, aiding those behind bars by helping them transition back into civilian life. Scott, the junior senator from South Carolina, was an original cosponsor of the bill.

“Today the Senate took a great step forward in building safer communities and a brighter future for those who have served their time and are re-entering society,” Scott said. “By cutting recidivism, encouraging job training, education and mental health and substance abuse treatments for incarcerated individuals, and making our criminal justice system both smarter and tougher, we have taken a positive step forward tonight.”

Prior this, Scott introduced an amendment to the First Step Act that focused on the police shooting death of a South Carolina man in 2015. The Walter Scott Act, if passed, would require states receiving federal law enforcement funding to keep track of a number of data points for each officer-involved shooting. Such data points include names, descriptions of the event, race, and overall circumstances that led up to an officer’s weapon being discharged. States that fail to comply could face a ten percent reduction in federal grant funds.

The proposed legislation is named after South Carolina native Walter Scott, who in 2015 was shot and killed by former North Charleston police officer Michael Slager. The shooting received national attention after video showed Slager shot Walter Scott in the back after trying to flee a traffic stop initiated by a broken brake light. Slager pleaded guilty to violating Walter Scott’s civil rights in 2017 and was sentenced to 20 years in prison the same year.

“This week’s criminal justice reform package provides us with an amazing opportunity to ensure the scales of justice are weighted equally for all Americans,” Scott said. “By giving us a deeper understanding of situations that lead to officer-related shootings, I believe the Walter Scott Notification Act can keep both our law enforcement officers and our communities safer.”

Scott also introduced a bill that would classify lynching as a federal hate crime on December 14. Scott introduced the legislation with Democratic senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, which defines lynching as death by mob without legal approval or permission. In a previous statement, Scott says more than 200 similar bills were approved during the first half of the 20th century, yet none were passed.

The passage of the First Step Act and introduction of the anti-lynching bill came with praise from Greenville’s NAACP branch. The branch released this statement Wednesday evening:

US Senator Tim Scott introduced on Tuesday the Walter Scott Police Reporting Amendment to the Criminal Justice Reform Bill called the First Step Act.

This amendment will require state law enforcement agencies to keep track of critical details like name, race, description of event, and overall circumstances that led up to a weapon being discharged.

The Walter Scott Amendment has points for which the NAACP has been fighting for throughout the decades. This legislation is long overdue but we applaud Senator Scott for moving forward with this bill and for the US Senate passing this bill.

Unarmed black men have been shot for years by law enforcement officers in America and there has been no accountability. With these new requirements, a clear picture about the number, locations, and intentions of shootings will increase accountabilities for those discharging firearms. However, this comes short of prosecuting those whose shootings are not justified by federal laws and policies.

Second, our Branch would like to commend Senator Scott for other pieces of federal legislative support that means a great deal to the people of this state, especially African Americans. We thank him for his support of Opportunity Zones and for being a sponsor of Lynching as a hate crime legislation.

Scott says he looks forward to the House of Representatives passing the bill and eventually seeing President Trump sign the First Step Act into law.