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.
One time, Scott was stopped in Capitol Hill — after working for five years as either a congressman or a senator. A guard apparently told him, "The pin, I know. You, I don’t. Show me your ID."
"Later that evening, I received a phone call from his supervisor apologizing for that behavior," Scott said. "That is at least the third phone call that I’ve received from a supervisor or the chief of police since I’ve been in the Senate."
Scott said he had been stopped seven times by police officers in the course of one year as an elected official. "Was I speeding sometimes? Sure," Scott acknowledged. "But the vast majority of the time, I was pulled over for nothing more than driving a new car in the wrong neighborhood or some other reason just as trivial."
"I was pulled over for nothing more than driving a new car in the wrong neighborhood or some other reason just as trivial"
"I was following a friend of mine, we had just left working out, and we were heading to Outback to grab a bite to eat at about 4 o’clock in the afternoon," Scott said. "He pulls out, I pull out right behind him. We’re driving down the road, and the blue lights come on. Officer pulls me into the median, and he starts telling me that he thinks perhaps the car is stolen."
Scott added, "Well, 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?’ I was looking for some rational reason that may have prompted him to stopping me on the side of the road."
Scott also shared a story from his brother, who became a command sergeant major in the US Army, the highest rank possible for an enlisted soldier: When he drove from Texas to South Carolina, a police officer pulled him over, wanting to know if the car was stolen because it was a Volvo. Scott also shared the story of a former staffer, who was pulled over while driving "a nice car" — a Chrysler 300 — so many times in Washington, DC, that he sold the vehicle and bought a more obscure one to avoid police targeting him.
"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," Scott said. He later added, "Imagine the frustration, the irritation, the sense of a loss of dignity that accompanies each of those stops."
Again, Scott emphasized that most police officers mean well, telling one story in which police officers stood up for him when an event host took tried to keep him out of the event, seemingly because of his race. But his stories conveyed a tragic truth about America’s criminal justice system: Too often, police officers act out of racial bias — and sometimes, that leads to a tragic, unnecessary death.
"While I thank God I have not endured bodily harm, I have however felt the pressure applied by the scales of justice when they are slanted," Scott said. "I have 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. As that former staffer I mentioned earlier told me yesterday, there 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."
Watch: Why recording the police is so important