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After Baltimore Riots, Scott Again Touts Body Cameras, Conservative Ideas

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

As Baltimore lifts the curfews used to quell looting and violence prompted by the nation’s latest case of a black man dying under murky circumstances after a run-in with law enforcement, Sen. Tim Scott is again touting his push for body cameras for police — and a host of conservative ideas.

The South Carolina Republican has been promised a hearing on body cameras through a Judiciary subcommittee. Although it’s not scheduled yet, he’s hoping expert testimony will show the best way to implement body camera programs and also address many of the concerns voiced by his colleagues: data retention, privacy issues, disclosure issues and just who should be required to wear them.

“Best case scenario coming out of the hearings would be legislation or a grant apparatus that provides some resources for body cameras for those agencies that can ill afford it,” Scott said last week in his office. “A second thing that I hope comes out of it is a longer, broader conversation about the issue of sustainability in some of the most vulnerable communities in our nation.”

As a senator, he’s seen firsthand many of the underlying issues in the communities that have endured tragedies like the one in Baltimore — single-parent homes, drugs and a lack of educational opportunities.

He spent time as an “undercover senator,” working at places such as Goodwill and a burrito shop to understand the hopes and frustrations of the low-income working class. And in April, 50-year-old Walter Scott was shot eight times in the back by a police officer in the senator’s home town of Charleston, which prompted his request for the hearing.

But his experience is shaped by more than just the plight of others. He grew up in a single-parent home, “steeped” in poverty, and flunked out of high school (though he later returned to graduate).

“I get hopelessness,” Scott said. “I think I also understand some of the solutions that set me free from a hopeless direction.”

Scott’s received a lot of media attention recently, having appeared on CNN and the PBS “NewsHour” in the past few days — with a long list of pending media requests — to talk about issues in urban communities and the role, or lack thereof, that government might play in addressing them.

“I’m hoping that we continue to play a leading role, so to speak, in this drama that’s unfolding before our very eyes,” Scott said. “And hopefully, in that position, we’ll be able to bring people to a commonsense solution, where we’re working and measuring our progress and our success.”

He realizes the limitations of body-camera legislation — that the federal government probably can’t compel local agencies to use them — and knows there isn’t a cure-all. So he’ll look to spend time pushing what he calls his opportunity agenda: school choice with a greater variety of options like charter schools and private school scholarships, enhanced worker skills, and the LEAP Act, co-sponsored by Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., which gives a tax credit to employers who hire an apprentice.

“Everyone keeps looking for the silver bullet, and I’m suggesting that there is no silver bullet,” Scott said. “Frankly, what we’re going to have to do is what I’ve been doing my entire time in the Senate, which is spend time on my opportunity agenda … because long term, the solutions aren’t that sexy, but they work.”

As a conservative, Scott is generally skeptical of new government programs and more spending. He used education as an example of why he didn’t believe increased funding or government intervention would necessarily be the answer.

“Our underperforming school districts, at least in South Carolina, spend about 60 to 80 percent more per pupil, and yet the performances are worse,” Scott said. “I’m going to suggest that more money has not solved the problem so far.”

Scott also stressed at least one issue where legislation won’t help — promoting family formation. But he hopes his story will bring to life conservative philosophies and set an example.

“Living close to and living in depressed areas are profoundly different experiences,” Scott said. “I will tell you that living in [depressed areas] gives you a unique perspective and if you do it year in and year out for 25 or 30 years, you can become disillusioned. But you can restore that hope and we hope to help.”

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