Sen. Tim Scott hits back at Durbin for complaining of 'token' approach to police reform

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Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., on Wednesday fired back at Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., after the Democrat appeared to dismiss the GOP Senate police reform bill that Scott spearheaded by complaining about its “token” approach.

In remarks on the Senate floor, Scott said the Illinois Democrat’s words "hurts us all." He said it especially "hurts" to hear language like that on the fifth anniversary of the Charleston church shooting.

Earlier, Scott responded on Twitter to Durbin's comments by referring to how congressional Democrats last week wore African kente cloths while they unveiled their own version of police reform. Critics accused them of cultural appropriation.

“Y’all still wearing those kente cloths over there @SenatorDurbin?” Scott wrote on Twitter.

Speaking on the Senate floor Wednesday, Durbin referenced Scott's bill and said he respects the senator but made clear he supports the Democrats’ legislation, saluting California Sen. Kamala Harris and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker for their work on it.

“We cannot waste this historic moment,” Durbin said of a police reform bill. “Let’s not do something that is a token, half-hearted approach.”

Senate Republicans on Wednesday unveiled their Justice Act police reform legislation, after Democrats in the House unveiled their own version of police reform last week.

SENATE REPUBLICANS UNVEIL POLICE REFORM LEGISLATION: 'WE HEAR YOU' 

Scott, the lone African-American GOP senator, spearheaded the Senate’s legislation, which seeks to hold officers accountable with an enhanced use-of-force database, restrict chokeholds, and assist local police departments with minority hiring to make them look more like the communities they serve.

"The answer to the question of which side do you support is 'I support America,'" Scott said in unveiling the legislation. "And if you support America you support restoring the confidence that communities of color have in institutions of authority. If you support America, that means you know that the overwhelming number of officers in this nation want to do their job, go home to their family. It is not a binary choice. This legislation encompasses that spirit."

Scott said the overwhelming number of officers in America are good people. But he acknowledged the real fears people of color have about encountering the police.

"We hear you. We're listening to your concerns," said Scott, who recalled his own "driving while black" experiences of being stopped seven times in one year. "The George Floyd incident certainly accelerated this conversation."

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Meanwhile, the Democrats’ Justice in Policing Act would lower the bar for police officers to face criminal prosecution by allowing charges not just in cases where alleged misconduct was intentional, but also in cases of reckless misconduct. It would also ban chokeholds, create a national database of cops who committed misconduct, boost police training and reform qualified immunity that can protect cops from lawsuits from victims of police brutality.

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., on Wednesday fired back at Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., after the Democrat appeared to dismiss the GOP Senate police reform bill that he spearheaded for its “token” approach.

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., on Wednesday fired back at Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., after the Democrat appeared to dismiss the GOP Senate police reform bill that he spearheaded for its “token” approach. (Associated Press, Reuters)

Scott's bill doesn't ban chokeholds outright, rather encouraging departments to do away with the practice or risk losing funds, and doesn't end qualified immunity. Democrats have already panned the legislation as not going far enough.

The GOP legislation would beef up requirements for law enforcement to compile use of force reports under a new George Floyd and Walter Scott Notification Act, named for the Minnesota father whose May 25 death sparked worldwide protests over police violence, and Scott, the South Carolina man shot by police after a traffic stop in 2015 (no relation to the senator).

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But the GOP effort seeks to reach across the aisle to Democrats in several ways. It includes one long-sought measure to make lynching a federal hate crime and another to launch a study of the social status of black men and boys that has been touted by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Meanwhile, Scott's Twitter rebuttal Wednesday hit a sensitive point for Democrats, as their decision to wear the garments touched off controversy. A USA Today fact check even noted that kente cloth, centuries ago, was “worn by the Asante people of Ghana, who were involved in the West African slave trade.” However, the same fact check noted that despite those ties to slavery, “it is more widely recognized as a modern symbol of pride in African American culture and pride in cultural ties to West Africa.”

Fox News' Chad Pergram and Marisa Schultz and The Associated Press contributed to this report.