Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) in an emotional speech on the Senate floor Wednesday lambasted Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) for describing his newly-unveiled police reform bill as a “token, half-hearted” approach.
Senate Republicans unveiled their own version of police reform bill dubbed the Justice Act, a week after the House Democrats unveiled their own overhaul version of police reform. Spearheaded by Scott, the chamber’s lone black GOP lawmaker, the bill would require data collection to track officer’s use of force, requires law enforcement agencies to send the Attorney General reports to track “no-knock” warrants, and provides incentives for chokehold bans. It would also provide grants to increase the use of body cameras and it makes lynching a federal crime.
After the Senate Republicans introduced their measure, Durbin cautioned lawmakers against doing any police reform that is “a token, half-hearted approach,” while saluting the two only black Democratic Senators — Kamala Harris of California and New Jersey Cory Booker for their work in creating the Democrats’ version.
“What we say on the Democratic side is we cannot waste this historic moment, this singular opportunity,” Durbin said. “Let’s not do something that is a token, half-hearted approach. Let’s focus instead on making a change that will make a difference in the future of America.”
Shortly after Durbin’s remark, the South Carolina Republican responded in an emotional speech by noting the unveiling of his bill came on the five-year anniversary of the tragic mass shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, saying the Minority Whip comment particularly “hurts the soul” to hear language like that because of the significance of the day.
“To think that on this day, as we try to make sure that fewer people lose confidence in this nation — to have the senator from Illinois refer to the process, this bill, this opportunity to restore hope and confidence from the American people, from African Americans, from communities of color, to call this a token process hurts my soul for my country, for our people,” Scott said on the Senate floor. “To think that the concept of anti-lynching as a part of this legislation to be considered a token piece of legislation because perhaps I’m African American, I’m the only one on this side of the aisle, I don’t know what he meant, but I can tell you that this day, to have those comments again hurts the soul.
Scott went on to slam his Democrat colleagues for referring to black conservatives as “tokens” and reminded how they didn’t say a “single thing” or help push forward his sponsored police reform legislation in 2015 after the death of Walter Scott who was killed by a white police officer in South Carolina.
“I sponsored legislation then, and I don’t remember a single person saying a single thing on that side of the aisle about helping to push forward more legislation on body cameras. But today this is a ‘token’ piece of legislation,” Scott said. “But on the other side, they are wanting to race bait on tokenism, while this legislation would provide resources for body cameras, for anti-lynching, for de-escalation training but no, we can’t concern ourselves with the families I have sat with at the White House yesterday and in my office yesterday. Instead, we want to play politics because this is 2020 and we’re far more concerned about winning elections than we are about having a serious conversation on reform in this country.”
He added, “We would rather have a conversation about tearing this country apart, making it a binary choice between law enforcement and communities of color instead of working for the American people, bringing the reforms to the table so that we have a chance to balance this nation and direct her towards due north. No, that’s too much to ask on June 17th, five years later. I started this conversation on body cameras in 2015, on the Walter Scott Notification Act in 2015, but no, we want to have a political conversation. There is just some that are more interested at scoring political points than they actually are getting a result. That’s where we should be focusing our attention on, not the color of my skin. Not tokens.”
Earlier, Scott responded to Durbin’s comments on Twitter by referencing House Democrats for wearing African kente sashes as they unveiled their version of police reform last week. The photo-op by Congressional Democrats was widely mocked online by black twitter from both parties, calling the move a political stunt.
“Y’all still wearing those kente cloths over there @SenatorDurbin?” Scott tweeted.
— Tim Scott (@SenatorTimScott) June 17, 2020
Durbin’s communications director, Emily Hampsten said the Illinois Senator after hearing Scott remarks on the Senate floor has apologized.
“The minute Sen. Durbin heard that he had offended Sen. Scott, he sought him out on the floor and apologized,” Hampsten said in a statement. “What Sen. Durbin took issue with in his floor speech was not Sen. Scott’s bill, but that the Senate Majority Leader would short circuit this critical debate and fail to make the changes needed to prevent the killing of Black Americans by police officers. Addressing systemic racism and changing policing in America requires and deserves more than one Judiciary hearing, one-floor vote, one conversation.”