A common response to the outcry over police misconduct is to almost immediately blame the victim -- he had a criminal record, he didn't listen to the police, and so on. But what happens when the victim to such misconduct is a United States senator with a clean record? On Wednesday, Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina gave a heartfelt speech in which he spoke about some of the abuses by police that he, as a black man, had dealt with. The speech, Scott said, was meant to show that in some instances -- he insisted that most cops mean well -- police officers are in the wrong, targeting someone solely because of his skin color.
Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) holds a rather unique position on Capitol Hill. The lawmaker, appointed and then elected to his seat, is the only African-American Republican in the chamber, and the only black senator of either party to get elected in the South since Reconstruction.
This background took on added salience last night, when Scott addressed one of the nation's most pressing and more important national debates. Vox had a good piece on the senator's striking remarks.
The entirely of Scott's speech is online here.
The GOP lawmaker talked about having been pulled over seven times in one year, and in most of the instances, "I was pulled over for nothing more than driving a new car in the wrong neighborhood or some other reason just as trivial."
Scott shared the details of a case in which an officer stopped him -- a sitting U.S. senator -- on suspicion of his car being stolen. "I started asking myself, because I was smart enough to not ask him, 'Is the license plate coming in as stolen? Does the license plate match the car?'" he said. "I was looking for some rational reason that may have prompted him to stop me on the side of the road."
Scott added, "I do not know many African-American men who do not have a very similar story to tell no matter the profession, no matter their income, no matter their disposition in life.... Imagine the frustration, the irritation, the sense of a loss of dignity that accompanies each of those stops."
He went on to acknowledge having "felt the anger, the frustration, the sadness, and the humiliation that comes with feeling like you're being targeted for nothing more than being just yourself.... [T]here is absolutely nothing more frustrating, more damaging to your soul than when you know you're following the rules and being treated like you're not."
It matters that Scott is a very conservative Republican from a very conservative "red" state, because if we're being honest, I think it's fair to say the relevance, impact, and reaction to remarks like these would be far different coming from a progressive African-American Democrat.
Indeed, it's not hard to imagine what we'd hear, because so many of us have already internalized the dialog. Scott's remarks, if they were acknowledged at all, would be dismissed as "divisive" paranoia that contributes to a "war on police."
But the right will probably find it more difficult to roll out the same stale talking points in response to the South Carolinian because he's a conservative Republican in good standing.
What I'm therefore eager to hear is the GOP's reaction to Scott's speech, since he's lending his voice to a problem many in his party prefer to downplay and ignore. For much of the right, there is no debate and no need to initiate one: the system is fair, critics are paranoid, and questioning law enforcement is dangerous.
Here's hoping Tim Scott enjoys the credibility necessary to give Republicans pause, encouraging them to reflect rather than react.