CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Charleston City Council passed the first reading of a hate crime ordinance Tuesday night.
The new ordinance would punish people for bias motivated crimes. It’s called a hate intimidation ordinance.
South Carolina is one of five states that does not legally recognize hate crimes.
The Executive Director of the Alliance For Full Acceptance Chase Glenn says it’s a good first step that Charleston is considering its own hate crime law.
“We are really pleased that the City of Charleston is making this a priority. I think we all can agree that we want Charleston to be a safe place for everyone,” Glenn said.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Public Safety Committee gave support for the hate intimidation ordinance.
The ordinance says people will be punished if they have the intent to intimidate another person because of their perceived race, color, creed, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, physical or mental disability or national origin.
A hate intimidation violation would be an additional offense to a crime committed.
“I think the clearest and most recent example is the transgender woman who was attacked in downtown Charleston back in August,” Glenn said. “That was clearly named a hate biased motivated crime by the Charleston Police Department.”
Charleston Police Chief Luther Reynolds says this law could have applied to that assault case. Violators could receive a fine up to $500 and up to 30 days in jail.
“I think it’s important that we take a stand against hate, that we have total clarity, total solidarity as a city against hate of any kind,” Reynolds said.
Mayor John Tecklenburg supports the proposed ordinance too. Reynolds and Glenn hope that a state hate crime law will follow.
“We as a community need to be unified around this issue, and be real clear about how we feel about hate particularly when it manifests itself through crime,” Reynolds said.
According to newly released FBI data, hate crimes rose 17 percent last year. They have been on the rise for at least the last three years, according to the report.
"Ultimately having a state hate crimes bill where it does have higher penalties where it is a felony, that would mean a lot that would really send a strong message," Glenn said.
The ordinance must pass three readings before it becomes law and can be enforced.
Glenn says hate crimes are under-reported because people might fear reporting them or feel that nothing will done.
Reynolds says having a citywide hate crime law will help them to be able to report bias motivated crimes in the city.
Bias motivated crimes in South Carolina are only recognized on a federal level. That means it is up to the Department of Justice to determine if they’ll seek prosecution.