Two congressmen say South Carolinians must have a frank conversation about race and policing in an effort to curb incidents like the fatal shooting of an unarmed black North Charleston man by a white police officer.
To drive that discussion, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-North Charleston, and U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-Spartanburg, invited S.C. faith and law enforcement leaders to a roundtable discussion Wednesday.
About 15 took part at Brookland Baptist Church with Scott and Gowdy. The discussion was closed to the press to encourage guests to speak openly about their experiences, Scott and Gowdy’s offices said.
In an interview with The State afterward, Scott said he and Gowdy came up with the idea while sharing meals in Washington, when the two friends hash out difficult issues.
A former prosecutor, Gowdy said he comes from a law-enforcement background but needs to understand Scott’s “perspective as someone who has had interaction with law enforcement that I’ve never had.”
Last month, Scott spoke on the U.S. Senate floor about being racially profiled by police officers, including on Capitol Hill, where he is one of two black U.S. senators.
“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,” he said on the Senate floor, adding many African-American men have similar stories to tell.
On Wednesday, Scott said the “strongest echoes” of his experience of being racially profiled came from African-American law enforcement officers who attended the roundtable discussion. The officers talked about experiences they had as black citizens – not as officers, Scott said.
The meeting’s goal was not to get input for legislative proposals – both lawmakers said racial tensions between the justice system and minority communities cannot be fixed through legislation.
Instead, the gathering was an attempt to develop more empathy between law enforcement and the minority communities that officers police, the Republicans said.
Gowdy said South Carolina is ahead of the rest of the country in terms of its reaction to officer-involved shootings. For example, Michael Slager, a former North Charleston police officer, faces charges in Scott’s death.
The two lawmakers said they hope conversations like theirs will help avoid similar incidents from happening.
“At a certain point, you don’t want to keep asking for forgiveness,” Gowdy said. “You want it to not happen in the first instance.”