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South Carolina: Is It Time for a Hate Crime Law?

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The Emanuel AME Church shooting on June 17, 2015, was a shocking crime, an unthinkable tragedy that elicited the grief of a community.

For state Rep. Wendell Gilliard (D-Charleston), it was more—“It was a hate crime.”

That view led Gilliard, whose district includes the church, to craft a hate crime bill for South Carolina. Gilliard still mourns the friends lost that day, especially pastor and state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, one of nine churchgoers murdered by an avowed white supremacist.

In June, Gilliard remarked that after a horrifying event, people always say they feel that their lives have been changed forever.

“But then it always seems like we go back to business as usual.” Not this time, he resolved.

Although hate crime legislation has been discussed in the legislature before, Gilliard said he believes that his bill has a good chance of passage when lawmakers reconvene on Tuesday, Jan. 14, for the 2020 session.

“We’re one of only four states that doesn’t have a hate crimes law. We must send a message to the victims’ families that nothing like this should happen again.”

The bill addresses threats based on race, religion, color, sex, age, national origin, sexual orientation or homelessness, and establishes a felony punishable by two to 15 years in prison and a fine of $2,000 to $10,000.

Ensuring Public Safety

Teresa Arnold, state director for AARP South Carolina, pledged support for hate crime legislation. She’s urging the association’s members to contact their representatives and ask them to support the bill.

Combating discrimination is one of AARP’s core values, Arnold noted.

“Hate crimes affect all of us,” said Emma McGraw Myers, 66, of Columbia, AARP volunteer president for the state. “We want our members to live their best lives, but they can’t if they live in fear of senseless acts.”

The bill would also give law enforcement a tool to ensure public safety, Arnold said.

Dylann Roof, the Charleston church shooter, was convicted on charges including federal hate crimes and received a death sentence in federal district court in January 2017. But state legislation could expedite such cases, because state prosecutions often move more speedily than federal ones.

The hate crime bill is cosponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Peter McCoy (R-Charleston). “If we don’t do this, we’re just in a revolving door, waiting for the next tragedy,” Gilliard said.

Another measure up for consideration in the 2020 session is the Palmetto Work and Save Plan. Roughly 1.2 million private- sector employees in the state are not able to save for retirement through their jobs because their employers do not offer a retirement plan.

The program would enable those workers to have access to voluntary, state-administered payroll deduction savings plans. Greater savings rates would mean fewer South Carolinians would need to rely on public assistance later in life, which saves taxpayer dollars.

To learn more about volunteering with AARP South Carolina to advocate for adults 50-plus on these and other issues, visit or call 866-389-5655.

Linda Lamb is a writer living in Columbia.

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