Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) on Wednesday said he sympathizes with young black men who are disproportionately targeted by the police -- a contrast to rancorous comments about the issue made by some of his GOP presidential opponents.
But Rubio said fixing broken homes and failing schools are the solutions to systematic racism -- not reforms to the criminal justice system.
Rubio, speaking at a CNN town hall in South Carolina, was responding to a voter's question about how he would tackle systemic racism and unite Americans. As South Carolina GOP voters head to the polls on Saturday, the state's legacy of racism is an important and emotionally resonant issue.
"There are communities in this country where minority communities and the police department have a terrible relationship," Rubio said. "I personally know someone who happens to be a police officer and a young African-American male, who told me that he's been pulled over seven, eight times in the last few years and never gets a ticket. What is he supposed to think? He gets pulled over, never gets a ticket. No one has any explanation. What is he supposed to think?
"Whether you agree with them or not, I happen to have seen this happen. Whether you agree or not, if a significant percentage of the American family believes that they are being treated differently than everyone else, we have a problem, and we have to address it as a society and as a country."
Rubio said that he was "not sure that there's a political solution." He blamed values and education.
"One reason you see educational and academic underperformance, not just in the African-American community, but in the Hispanic community, is because a disproportionate number of our children are growing up in broken homes in dangerous neighborhoods, living in substandard housing and forced by the government to attend a failing school," he said. "They're going to struggle to succeed unless something breaks that cycle."
Rubio suggested Americans should celebrate "how far we've come" against racism, praising South Carolina's handling of last year's white supremacist shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, which resulted in the removal of the Confederate flag from the state capitol.
He touted his endorsement by Gov. Nikki Haley (R), the daughter of Indian immigrants, who threw her support behind Rubio earlier on Wednesday.
When moderator Anderson Cooper asked Rubio if he had personally experienced racism as a child, he responded that his parents "never raised us to feel that we were victims."
"Some of the neighborhood kids, older kids, one day were taunting my family saying, 'Why don't you go back on your boat, go back to your country?' I didn't know what were talking about? What boat? My mom doesn't even swim," he recounted.
"That disturbed me as a young child. For the most part in my life, I never saw that as a reflection on America but as a reflection on those kids."
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