Sen. Tim Scott gave the keynote speech during the first night of the Republican National Convention on Monday (Aug. 24). He is one of the authors of Republican legislation that attempted to address police violence in Black communities. He penned the opinon piece below for BET.com on what he and the party was attempting to accomplish.
We know the pain of police misconduct all too well. I have been pulled over by police officers seven times in one year as an elected official and 18 times in two decades simply because of the color of my skin. Even now as a United States senator, I have been stopped by Capitol Police officers on my way to vote.
I may wear a Senate pin, but I am no different from countless friends, family members, and other folks who look like me and who have had similar experiences. This pain is in large part, the reason why too many people of color have lost faith in law enforcement.
I am a Black American, and I know what I am called here to do. I remember in 2015, in my home state of South Carolina, an unarmed man named Walter Scott (no relation) was unjustly killed by an officer in North Charleston. I met with that family, and I promised that I would do whatever I could to prevent another tragedy. The book of Ezekiel talks about a watchman, a leader who must blow the trumpet and warn the people of danger – whether they want to hear that warning or not. So I began to blow my trumpet, introducing bills on the use of force and body-worn cameras. Unfortunately, that warning mostly fell on deaf ears.
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Five years later, I find myself blowing the trumpet again. It has been my Republican colleagues in the Senate, who have heeded my calls for police reform. I introduced the JUSTICE Act [Just and Unifying Solutions to Invigorate Communities Everywhere] to address police training, accountability, and transparency. My bill included bi-partisan measures – and overlapped with about 70% of the proposal put forward by the House Democrats.
We know the majority of our law enforcement officers are character-driven individuals, but our legislation aims to get rid of the bad apples and restore faith in communities of color. Both bills banned chokeholds on the federal level and severely restricted their use in states and localities. Both bills called for body-worn cameras, improved data collection, a new anti-lynching law, de-escalation and duty to intervene training, establishing best practices for officers, and more diverse hiring.
Every single Republican senator voted in support of the JUSTICE Act, but we were four votes short. Sadly, politics got in the way. While the Democrats claimed to be in favor of progress, they rejected every opportunity – including an offer of twenty amendments – to have a role in passing this landmark legislation.
This issue is bigger than partisan bickering and presidential politics, and we don’t have time to waste. My party knows how critical it is to ensure every American has faith in our justice system from beginning to end. In 2018, the Republicans and the Trump Administration led the way in passing sweeping criminal justice and sentencing reform in the First Step Act. And today, the JUSTICE Act is the next step in that effort.
Racism is an issue that requires the help of the entire country. Our most vulnerable populations get hit the hardest by our nation’s ills. It is true, because I have lived it.
I want to be abundantly clear; this country has made some great strides in improving race relations. We just need to make sure things are better for the next generation. My fear is that something bad is going to happen again, I will blow my trumpet again, we will all talk about what should have been done and could have been done again. The next question we must answer to get out of this twilight zone of déjà vu is when will we do something together, to see real change?
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Republicans are ready and willing to come to the table. We will continue uplifting HBCUs, advocating for school choice, creating access to capital, educating folks on building wealth, and enhancing my Opportunity Zones initiative to rebuild our most disadvantaged communities. While we wait for my colleagues on the other side, I will keep blowing my trumpet, because I see and hear those children in vulnerable communities and I will work relentlessly to make sure they are not stopped as many times as I was or end up being the next hashtag.
Sen. Tim Scott is a Republican senator from South Carolina.
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