WASHINGTON — Sen. Tim Scott said that he sees a change in the way that white Americans are discussing race and racism, and believes there will be lasting change resulting from the outcry over the killing of George Floyd.
“I think for the first time, in a very long time, the response from the white community is very consistent with the response to the black community,” Scott, a South Carolina Republican, said in an interview on “The Long Game,” a Yahoo News podcast. “Generically speaking, that means that we’re having an American family response to a crisis in our family. And that’s what it should be like.”
Scott described the impact of an incident like Floyd’s killing, caught on camera as a white Minneapolis police officer pushed his knee down onto the black man’s neck for almost nine minutes, on black men, women and children who watch it.
“If you have a system that leads to an unjust outcome, and that system is a system of authority, that means you’re breaking the back and breaking the spirit of millions of people in your country who see that unjust system and say, ‘It will rain down upon me, guilty or not guilty,’” Scott said. “That does not lead to a society of order. It leads towards a society of chaos.”
Scott said he does not think attempts to address systemic change in the wake of Floyd’s death will be swept aside in the days and weeks ahead. Yet already, some conservative pundits are dismissing the idea that systemic racism in policing is a problem, much as President Trump’s national security adviser Robert O’Brien denied this past weekend that it exists.
Scott is pushing two pieces of legislation to create national databases for police shootings and for deaths in police custody, named after Floyd and Walter Scott, a 50-year-old black man fatally shot in the back by a white police officer in North Charleston in 2015.
But Sen. Scott said that he does not think “there’s a piece of legislation that will actually stop hate in the heart. I think we can slow its progress in our society, but hate is a heart issue and that’s not something you can legislate against. I do have specific pieces of legislations that I think will be helpful.”
Scott has been outspoken in calling out violence during the protests over Floyd’s death. Acts of violence and looting during protests have varied from city to city, and the issue has become a touch point for debate over whether too much or too little attention is being paid to it. There have also been some people publicly arguing that violence is necessary to effect political change.
“Many people are asking if violence is a valid means of producing social change. The hard and historical answer is yes,” wrote Kellie Carter Jackson, an assistant professor of Africana studies at Wellesley College, in the Atlantic. “Riots have a way of magnifying not merely the flaws in the system, but also the strength of those in power. The American Revolution was won with violence. The French Revolution was won with violence.”
Scott pointed to the comments of Terrence Floyd, George Floyd’s brother, in which he asked those who were destroying property to stop. “If I’m not over here wilding out, if I’m not over here blowing up stuff, if I’m not over here messing with my community, then what are y’all doing?” Terrence Floyd said. “Let’s do this another way.”
“Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis: Pick one,” Scott said. “I think they would all say that without any question of the country, the arc of the universe, it bent because of the nonviolent resistance. ... Whether it was sit-ins at Woolworth counters, Rock Hill, South Carolina. We’ve seen silent nonviolent protests, Rosa Parks, lead to community transformation when everything else seemed to not work.”
Scott also said that Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., a pioneer of the civil rights movement who was beaten nearly to death in 1965 by Alabama police after crossing Edmund Pettus Bridge at the head of a protest march, warned him about the dangers of violence.
“He was so crystal clear that aggression and bitterness are the enemies of your soul. It will rot you out faster than anything else. And for those who believe that violence is a way, it seems very much like a hatred. The person who suffers the most is the person that holds on to it,” Scott said.