CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - The evil that visited the Holy City on June 17, 2015 was unprecedented. A gunman entered Emanuel AME bible study and gunned down nine members as they prayed with him.
The mayor of Charleston at the time was Joe Riley.
He was among the first to call the murders motivated by bigotry…a hate crime.
“It was a hate crime” said Riley. “And it was very important at that moment that we made that clear.”
“In SC, after Dylann Roof I’m surprised they’re not passing a hate crime law” said Cyntia Deitle a former FBI agent.
There are federal hate crime laws. But South Carolina is one of five states with no hate crime laws on the books.
Not then...and not now.
State Rep. Wendell Gaillard is preparing House Bill 3063, and is confident that his bill addresses issues where federal hate crime laws fall short.
“You’ve got to remember we here in the state; we can’t enforce federal laws. And when you look at the history of hate crimes, the federal department is now trying to bring to court. It’s a slow process,” he said adding that the federal government doesn’t have the manpower to pursue all crimes that fall under the hate category.
In addition, Gaillard says the federal law is overly broad, but his bill seeks to be more inclusive. For example, highlighting crimes against sexual orientation and homelessness.
However, there are others who believe crime is crime.
James Bessenger, former leader of the South Carolina Secessionist Party, doesn’t believe crimes should be broken down based on the motivation of the person who commits them.
“I haven’t seen any justification for why someone who attacks a gay man should be punished worse than someone who attacks a straight man he just didn’t get along with,” said Bessenger. “Or someone who happens to be a racist attacking a black man getting a worse punishment for someone who attacks a white man who’s just an a—hole,” he continued.
Charleston Police Chief Luther Reynolds says the purpose of categorizing hate crimes is to learn from the data.
“I think the answer is so that we can better track, and that we can understand better why certain crimes are being committed and we can address those more effectively within our communities,” Reynolds explained.
Last August, outside of Deco Nightclub, Reynolds recalls a member of the transgender community being attacked, in what he calls a hate crime just blocks away from Mother Emanuel.
“I think because of her gender identity, Kendra was attacked for that reason, and I think that was something that clearly we learned after going through videos,” he said."It was very specific targeting.”