Bill sponsor, activists react to SC House approving hate crime bill

A bill that would allow harsher punishments for violent hate crimes in South Carolina is one step closer to becoming law.
Published: Mar. 9, 2023 at 11:27 PM EST|Updated: Mar. 10, 2023 at 4:10 AM EST
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - A bill that would allow harsher punishments for violent hate crimes in South Carolina is one step closer to becoming law, and those who support the bill are more motivated than ever to see it get to the governor’s desk.

More than half of the 124 state representatives are supporting the Clementa C. Pinckney Hate Crimes Act, whose name’s sake comes from former State Sen. Pinckney, who was one of the nine victims of the Mother Emanuel AME Church 2015 shooting.

The bill, which got a second reading, essentially passing the House on Wednesday, still has a way to go before it reaches Gov. Henry McMaster’s Desk. It will next move to the Senate, where it died last year after never getting a floor debate.

“Cautiously optimistic,” is how State Rep. Wendell Gillard, who has pushed for the bill from the very beginning, described how he is feeling about Wednesday’s success.

He says he is more motivated than ever to continue the fight to pass the Clementa C. Pinckney Hate Crimes Act into law.

“We’ll enjoy the moment, but now the real work has just begun,” Gillard said.

Gillard said the challenge now is to get the ears of the senate and to explain this bill is about the community as a whole and not individual party preferences.

“I don’t see this effort as a party effort or a particular group effort, this is a people’s effort; this is about ‘we the people,’” Gillard said.

He and other Lowcountry activists are encouraging everyone to contact state senators to get them on board.

Charleston Activist Pastor Thomas Dixon said he felt encouraged by how fast the House moved forward with the bill but is not ready to celebrate just yet.

“As the bill moves over to the Senate, I don’t really have the optimistic hope that it’s going to pass in the senate this time,” Dixon said.

Because the same people who would not vote in favor of it last time in the Senate, they’re still in the same seats this year.”

Dixon said if people have not been voting and contacting their state legislatures about this bill, they should expect the worst.

“Optimism without action is hopelessness,” Dixon said.

To believe that something is going to happen without doing something to make sure it happens, that’s futile.”

Blondelle Gadsden, a lifelong member of the Mother Emanuel Church, lost her sister Myra Thompson in the 2015 church shooting.

She said it is near and dear to her heart to make sure their deaths were not in vain.

“It was really hard on the families when we realized what we had to go through in order for it to even be considered a hate crime,” Gadsden said.

She said she made it her priority to have conversations, wherever she has the opportunity, to talk about this bill.

“We all need to take a look at how we are able to make this bill a reality because it impacts all of our lives,” Gadsden said.

Pastor Dixon said if the bill is passed into law, it will send a strong message that hate is not going to be tolerated in South Carolina.

South Carolina remains one of two states without a hate crimes law.