Senator recalls police stops in speech on race
Washington — South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, the lone black Republican in the Senate, candidly described being stopped by police, even Capitol Hill cops, because of the color of his skin. It’s an experience all too familiar to many of his African-American colleagues in Congress.
A day after Scott’s personal recounting on the Senate floor, several lawmakers said Thursday that they have had similar experiences, whether it’s being pulled over for no reason while driving in their hometowns or being challenged by police. Their white colleagues, they think, would never be treated the same way.
Scott described being pulled over seven times within a year and also being stopped by a U.S. Capitol Police officer who said he recognized the pin he was wearing that identifies him as a senator — but didn’t recognize Scott.
“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 just being yourself,” Scott said.
Americans have questioned the state of race relations after gun violence directed at police officers as well as shootings by police. Last week, a black Army veteran killed five police officers in Dallas in revenge for police shooting black men in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and the Minneapolis suburbs.
As a nation reels, black lawmakers say they hope Scott’s speech resonates, leading to a greater understanding about the divide between blue and black.
“I am absolutely convinced that most African-American members of Congress, particularly the men, have encountered some form of a hostile police encounter over the years,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y.
Jeffries, 45, recalled twice when he was younger being pulled over by police and searched along with African-American friends. No reason was given for the stops. Several other black male lawmakers told similar stories.
South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, the No. 3 Democrat in the House and a veteran of 1960s civil rights marches, said he was once being driven in South Carolina in his car with congressional tags. A policeman stopped the car and asked the driver, “Where’s the congressman?” while staring directly at Clyburn sitting in the back seat.
“He doesn’t see a congressman, he sees a black face,” Clyburn said.
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., the only other African-American in the Senate, wrote an essay for the Stanford University newspaper after he graduated from that school in the early 1990s about being stopped by police, guns pointed at him, for “fitting the description” of a car thief.
“In the jewelry store, they lock the case when I walk in,” Booker wrote. “In the shoe store, they help the white man who walks in after me.”
Booker said he read the article, written when he was 23, at the Senate Democratic caucus meeting Tuesday.
Of Scott’s speech, Booker said it was powerful and “frankly showed a lot of courage for him to tell the truth.”
Most black lawmakers interviewed by The Associated Press said they were treated well by Capitol Police, the force that protects Congress and its people. Some said they were often asked to stop and identify themselves on the Hill, though they weren’t sure if it was because of the color of their skin.
“I’ve had to show my pin on numerous occasions,” said Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-N.Y. “It makes you wonder.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said he’d been “asked to show my ID many times, after I’ve been here 18 years.”
A spokeswoman for the Capitol Police said she had no comment on Scott’s speech or the other accounts.
Cummings, 65, says police stops while driving have become less frequent as he’s gotten older. But when he was younger, he says he was probably stopped by police once a month.
Rep. Andre Carson, D-Ind., a former police officer himself, says he was stopped in the Washington suburbs once when an officer made a derisive comment about the suit he was wearing. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., said he has been stopped “all the time” over the years in his Louisiana district.
In an effort to try and address recent police shootings, the House Judiciary Committee this week established a bipartisan working group to address police accountability, aggression toward law enforcement and public safety concerns related to those issues. Jeffries and Richmond are both on the panel.
On Thursday, Scott delivered another speech to offer some solutions to the problems. He suggested more body cameras, better tracking of police shootings and better police training, among other ideas. He said he represents hope and progress — a U.S. senator whose grandfather picked cotton in the Deep South.
“It’s a dark hour in race relations for America,” Scott said. “But I bring you hope, real hope.”
As Scott spoke, several of his fellow Republicans sat at desks on the Senate floor and turned to watch him — a rarity in the usually empty chamber. One of those senators, James Lankford of Oklahoma, later gave a speech suggesting that people invite a person of another race to dinner in their homes.
“We need to have a greater conversation about race, and I think we somewhat are a little confused about how this gets resolved in some ways,” Lankford said.