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GOP Senator Tim Scott Comments On President's Response To Nationwide Protests

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

They have been angry. They have been, at times, destructive. They have been solemn and peaceful as well. But they have not stopped. The protests over the police killing of George Floyd have drawn into sharp relief the deep racial inequities in America, and everyone is trying to figure out a way forward. South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, the only African American Republican senator in the U.S., is one of those people. He joins us now. Welcome, senator.

TIM SCOTT: Thank you very much. It's good to be with you.

CHANG: If I may, I want to start by asking you about your own experience with police as an African American man in this country. I mean, even after becoming a U.S. senator, I know that you have still continued to get stopped by police. Can you talk about what that experience is like? What goes through your mind in those moments?

SCOTT: Well, you typically never forget them. They kind of scar your soul a little bit at a time. And I've had, thankfully, enough good experiences as well as the tough ones that I can actually be supportive of law enforcement. This year I was pulled over by an officer who said that I used my turn signal late in my lane change. Talking to some of the police chiefs that I know after that incident, they tell me that that's one of the tactics that has often been used to take a look in the car, take a whiff in the air.

And it's just tough to think of yourself as a target for just driving while black, and it's one of the reasons why, when I was on county council, I brought attention to it. Now as a senator, I've done several speeches on the importance of restoring trust in our institutions, which starts with the institution that has the authority to execute harsh treatment.

CHANG: You have said in the past that you have had constructive conversations on race with President Trump. Are you convinced that this president is sincerely concerned about the issue of police brutality against black people?

SCOTT: Well, he and I have had a discussion about it four or five times in the last three or four weeks. I would say that his interest and attention on the subject has never been sharper, and I think his focus is in the right place.

CHANG: I mean, this is a president who inflames tensions. Last Friday he tweeted, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. That is a phrase used by, among others, Gov. George Wallace, who was a segregationist in Alabama. President Trump has also said that if protesters breached the fence around the White House, they would be greeted with vicious dogs. How do statements like that unify and move this country forward?

SCOTT: I've actually never suggested that they do. That's the point of our conversations.

CHANG: Do you think the president has a problem with his words when it comes to this issue?

SCOTT: Well, the president's love language has never been words of encouragement. I like to think of his love language as acts of service. And that's one of the reasons why I focus on the policy positions that we take that produce the type of change that will be necessary for a healthier, stronger middle class in the African American community.

CHANG: And what are the policy positions that this president has taken, in your mind, that are helping African Americans in this country?

SCOTT: The Opportunity Zone legislation is certainly the flagship legislation for my mind. It today has $75 billion targeted for mostly minority communities, distressed communities without question. The work that we did on criminal justice reform was monumental change, especially in the backdrop of the 1994 crime bill. I would suggest that our help with the HBCUs has been monumental and historic. According to the leader of the United Negro College Fund, the funding that we have provided this year is the highest level ever.

CHANG: But the question remains, are those policies enough in a time when we're seeing African Americans killed by police, we see African Americans dying at much higher rates than white people during this coronavirus pandemic? And even though, yes, today's jobs numbers were better, they were still worse for African Americans. Is the Trump administration doing enough about the systemic forces behind the inequities that persist?

SCOTT: Well, the chasm between the haves and the have-nots in this nation can be defined by two major pillars - education being one, family formation being the other. Family formation, chances are high, we're not going to do much about in the government. And on the education front, from HBCUs to charter schools to supporting education reform that leads to better outcomes in the poorest ZIP codes, this is the way that you systemically change a society. And let's not forget that 2016 and '17 was not the beginning of the challenges within the African American community. It's been going on since the inception of the country. So we have to understand and appreciate the full picture and not just a partial picture.

CHANG: Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, thank you very much for joining us today.

SCOTT: Absolutely. Good to be with you. I hope I get to come back. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.