Several community members seek action on hate crime, gun control bills

A roundtable gave some the chance to directly communicate with law enforcement and legislators

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WOLO) — Several concerned community members made their voices heard with the goal of getting lawmakers to pass bills focused on hate crimes and gun control.

Four years after nine people lost their lives in a shooting at the Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, Elder James Johnson says South Carolina is vulnerable to another racially-charged incident, owing to larger participation in groups like the Ku Klux Klan and the number of historically black colleges and universities (HBCU’s) in the state.

“This could happen again in this state. People are fed up and we see people are actually looking at this like their kids could be next,” said Johnson, the South Carolina State Chapter President of the National Action Network.

South Carolina is one of four states without a hate crime statute on the books. The three other states that do not have hate crime statutes on the books are Georgia, Arkansas, and Wyoming.

Johnson says passing a hate crime law would bring more people threatening racial violence, like the student at Cardinal Newman High School last week, to justice more quickly. 

“The only reason they could arrest him was because he mentioned the school in it. They couldn’t arrest him unless he mentioned shooting up the school. That bill needs to be signed,” Johnson said.

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott also supports hate crime legislation, saying federal law does not allow him to arrest a student under the age of 18 for racist threats.

“They will not prosecute juveniles. Our state law wouldn’t be able to do that, so that’s why we need a hate crime law so I could enforce it as a sheriff. Local law enforcement needs to have that tool in order to protect our citizens,” Sheriff Lott said.

Many people voiced their concerns with lawmakers and law enforcement about why these bills need to be passed.

Some say they plan on calling their legislators to take action at the State House, but they need people on both sides of the aisle to push the bill forward.

“Put down that banner of blame game and come together with solutions that’s going to be viable to solve the problem, and we need hate crime legislation for all people,” said Brenda McGriff of the Richland County Neighborhood Council. 

Some of the panelists in Wednesday’s round table discussion were Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook, Orangeburg County Sheriff Leroy Ravenell, Rep. Wendy Brawley (D-Richland County), and Rep. Ivory Thigpen (D-Richland County).

One bill that would set punishments for assault or threats based on a person’s race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation is currently in the hands of the House Judiciary Committee.

Senator Darrell Jackson (D-Richland County) also said he is planning on pre-filing a hate crime bill, similar to one he first introduced in 1997, which would upgrade charges for racially-motivated crimes.

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