Charleston leaders are encouraging state officials to pick back up the effort to pass a statewide hate crime bill after efforts to further the Clementa C. Pinckney Hate Crimes Act stalled in the Statehouse earlier this year.
Members of council unanimously passed a resolution by voice vote to support the passage of the bill at Tuesday night’s council meeting.
The bill, named after the pastor of Emanuel AME Church, the site of a tragic shooting in 2015, would add up to five years in prison for someone convicted of murder, assault or other violent crime fueled by hatred of the victim’s race, sexual orientation, gender, religion or disability. But in the seven years since the tragedy, which still haunts local memories, action has been slow, if taken at all. South Carolina remains one of only two states without such a bill, Wyoming being the other.
“It is just unconscionable that this state doesn’t have a hate crime bill,” council member Peter Shahid said at Tuesday night’s meeting. “Whatever we can do on our part to encourage, to enforce, to strongarm — whatever we need to do to get this thing passed — we need to do that. It’s been far too long.”
The City of Charleston unanimously passed its own hate crimes law in December 2018, the first of its kind passed by any municipality in the state. In council meetings and in interviews with the City Paper, some of the city’s top officials, including Mayor John Tecklenburg and Charleston Police Chief Luther Reynolds, said they felt it was time for the city to go after acts of targeted violence.
“If there is a city in South Carolina, if not the nation, that can speak directly to hate coming to visit, it is Charleston,” council member Keith Waring said at Tuesday night’s meeting. “Sometimes we get moving on as business as usual, but I know the heart and the spirit is with me in counseling this.”
The state’s bill currently sits in the Senate. If senators don’t approve the proposal by the end of their session in May, the measure will need to be brought back to the table from the beginning.