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Hate crime bill beginning to make its way through SC House

Updated: Mar. 9, 2021 at 6:14 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - South Carolina is one of three states without a hate crime law on the books, but that could soon change.

For more than two hours Tuesday, community members interested in voicing their opinions on a bill that would increase the penalty on crimes motivated by hate against a certain group spoke in front of a House subcommittee.

The push for a hate crimes bill comes after House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, formed a committee after a summer of protests took place across South Carolina in the wake of the death of George Floyd. A group of business leaders from around the state also came together to ask for the passage of this bill last month.

This movement comes as hate crimes have almost quadrupled in four years in South Carolina, according to the Anti-Defamation League. House Bill H.3620 states anyone convicted of a violent crime, harassment or stalking offense or a malicious injury offense would face stricter penalties if prosecutors proved the victim was targeted because they fall under several protected classes.

Those include race, color, creed, religion, sex, gender, age, national origin, ancestry, sexual orientation, or physical or mental disability. The bill states the person convicted of the crime would face tougher penalties regardless of whether their perception about the victim is correct.

A person convicted could face an additional five years in jail under this law if they commit a violent crime based on bias against one of those groups.

A South Carolina high school student is one of the people who joined the fight for the law.

“I feel like because we don’t have a hate crime law, people feel it is OK to do these criminal actions against people,” Tyler Gadson said. “It’s OK not only to have that belief or that speech and when they do these actions towards people, they’ll figure, ‘Oh, it’s OK because I’m not going to be punished for it.’”

Gadson, who says being a Black student and runner could make him a target of a hate crime, says his support of a hate crime law in the state came after he watched a video purported to show a student from the Midlands firing a gun at a box of Michael Jordan shoes while talking about how much he hated Black people.

No one at a subcommittee hearing on the bill opposed passing hate crime legislation, but some said they want to see the bill changed, worrying it is too broad and would infringe on free speech and religious freedom.

“What we are asking for is assurance, specific language that the social and political viewpoint advocacy groups especially won’t be subject to penalties like that,” SC Citizens for Life spokesperson Holly Gatling said.

Gatling and others who were worried about what would happen if the bill were to pass, were particularly worried about the bill adding enhanced penalties for stalking and harassing, rather than just violent crimes.

Mitch Prosser, a pastor with Palmetto Family, said he was concerned this bill would prevent religious expression in certain instances like when Prosser and others sang “Amazing Grace” after the deadly shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church.

“Can you imagine if you will, during that day, during the Amazing Grace rally, that a pastor would pray in Jesus’ name with the song ‘Amazing Grace’ with its deep, rich, Christian heritage would’ve offended someone that that person then would be charged with some sort of harassment,” Prosser said.

Rep. Justin Bamberg, D-Bamberg, noted during the hearing this legislation does not create new laws surrounding harassment, stalking, or violent crimes but rather enhances the penalty if there is a hate-inspired motivation.

Once it passes the House Judiciary Committee, it will go to the full House for a vote.

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