UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 29: Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., speaks at a news conference after the 113th Congress Democratic Caucus Organizational Meeting in Cannon Building. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Tom Williams—Getty Images
By Alex Rogers
April 9, 2015

South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, the No. 3 House Democrat and one of the most prominent African Americans in Congress, blames the shooting of an unarmed black man by a North Charleston police officer on conservative lobbying efforts.

Clyburn, who represents and previously lived in North Charleston where the shooting occurred, said that authorities should make an example of police officer Michael Slager, who was charged with murdering Walter Scott after videotape surfaced of the shooting.

“This is the most obvious thing I’ve ever seen involving a police officer,” he said in a phone interview Wednesday. “And I think there’s many more like this, we just didn’t have the videotape.”

Clyburn said that the relationship broadly between African Americans and law enforcement is “very, very bad” and blames the American Legislative Exchange Council, a nonprofit conservative group that drafts and promotes state legislation, and the billionaire Koch brothers, who have donated to ALEC.

Clyburn called the group “dangerous” and claimed that it was partly responsible for the death of Scott because of its support of conservative legislation, including the “stand your ground” laws that allow a person to kill in self-defense without having the duty to retreat. He then added that while the Kochs are lauded for their philanthropy in New York City—they have giving hundreds of millions of dollars to Memorial Sloan Kettering Center and the home of the New York City ballet and opera—some Ku Klux Klan supporters were once viewed as “upstanding citizens” as well.

“Let me tell you something, people who used to fund the Ku Klux Klan who were upstanding citizens by every other stretch of the imagination,” Clyburn told TIME. “The Klu Klux Klan didn’t run free throughout the South without financial support from some upstanding people. And that’s what’s going on here. The Koch brothers may be upstanding people in New York but they are funding these draconian attacks on voting, attacks on young black males—and that’s what ‘stand your ground’ laws are all about.”

Clyburn then blamed ALEC for creating the “atmosphere” in which the shooting happened. “This American Legislative Exchange Council is at the hub of a national effort to stand your ground laws, with these voter ID laws, these things are going out all over this country,” he says. “This is not isolated, this is coordinated.”

“I blame them for creating the atmosphere that will allow this police officer to shoot this guy in the back,” he said. “Yes, I blame them for creating that atmosphere. They’re the ones responsible for stand your ground laws. Yes I do.”

While ALEC has played a role at the state level in “stand your ground” legislation, the law isn’t relevant in this particular shooting, as Slager is a police officer.

Bill Meierling, ALEC’s Vice President of Public Affairs, says Clyburn is being fed “incredibly inaccurate and false information” about the organization.

“We work on limited government, free market and federalism issues,” he says. “We haven’t worked on anything having to do with firearms or self-defense in more than three years. We work on no social issues. We do, however, work on reducing recidivism rates and working on getting people out of jail, working on over criminalization issues.”

“We are working on body camera issues for local police enforcement that I think would have solved this problem,” he adds. “So we’re doing pretty much the exact opposite of what he says we’re doing. I can’t be more emphatic or stress it enough because it’s damaging to say that we’re involved in creating some sort of conditions by which these things happen.”

Ken Spain, a spokesperson for Koch Industries, called Clyburn’s comments “unfortunate and disappointing.”

“We share Mr. Clyburn’s outrage over what happened in South Carolina, but it is unfortunate and disappointing that he would perpetuate the false notion that Koch has been involved in so-called ‘stand your ground’ legislation or any public policy that would weaken voting rights,” says Spain. “In fact, Koch Industries has played a leading role in partnering with a number of liberal organizations on the issue of criminal justice reform to restore voting rights for non-violent offenders and support the overhaul of a system that has negatively and disproportionately impacted the rights of African Americans.”

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