Five years ago, the course of history for Charleston and the rest of the state changed irreversibly when a violent, homegrown terrorist murdered worshippers at Emanuel AME Church. Nine people died. Dozens more were directly impacted. But looking back at what our leaders have done in response, you might think nothing much happened at all.
For the most part, our state legislature still struggles to make progress on issues on which they’ve failed for decades. There have been big new ideas and common-sense proposals, but little action. Everyone in power should be ashamed. Yes, after years of debate, the Confederate flag finally was moved off the Statehouse grounds. But in a state with persistent racial inequalities, a struggling education system and huge health care gaps, there’s so much more to be done.
Here are five actions leaders in Columbia can take to move our state forward.
Fix the Charleston loophole. Gun law reform is so treacherous for Republicans in South Carolina that even the flawed state law that allowed the Emanuel killer to buy a gun before his background check cleared remains untouched.
Repeal the Heritage Act. Stop preventing the removal of Confederate statues and memorials. Local communities, through home rule, should be able to take down homages to the lost cause of the Confederacy more than 150 years after the war ended. Not only do the statues represent public memorials to the preservation of slavery, the act itself shamefully enshrines Confederate protection into state law.
Fix the education funding formula. Lawmakers have kicked the can for so long on education that the pandemic put off action for at least another year. But as soon as modest reforms are passed, we have to revisit the funding formula that has created a dysfunctional, dis-integrated education system in our state. It’s past time to make progress.
Pass a state hate crimes law. In a state that is one of four that treats hate-motivated violence the same as any other crime, it should come as no surprise that a South Carolinian perpetrated the Emanuel killings. With hate crimes on the rise in South Carolina, according to the FBI, the state should stand against those who try to divide us with deep-seeded prejudice and violence.
Commit to equality. The five years since Emanuel laid bare stark socioeconomic inequalities across the state. Local, community and state leaders should seek equality in all of their work from public policy discussions to common everyday interactions.
Charleston will never be the same after June 17, 2015. A handful of gardens, markers, signs and murals remind those who don’t remember the emotion and pain felt in the days after nine senseless deaths. A suitable legacy, even five years later, would be real and substantive changes by Statehouse colleagues of one of the tragedy’s victims, the late Sen. Clementa Pinckney.
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