N. Charleston Police launch anti-hate crime plan as push for new law continues
NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The North Charleston Police Department is launching a plan to help people who feel they are victims of a hate crime to find a safe harbor to get help.
The agency will launch the “Safe Place” initiative, which is used in municipalities across the nation, to support minorities and victims of a hate crime.
Developed by the Seattle Police Department, it allows businesses to apply for a free decal to display on their window to indicate they are a “safe place” where people who feel they are being victimized can enter and find support as they call the police and wait for them to arrive.
Roadside Blooms is the first North Charleston business to proudly display a sticker in its window. Owner Toni Reale says it is a way for her and her business to express love for the community.
“It’s already part of our business culture and company culture to be an inclusive and loving place for people,” Reale said. “I want this to continue to be a safe place for everybody, especially those that are going through something traumatic, we would love to be a part of helping them heal.”
North Charleston Police Corp. Paiam Etminan says citizens asked about the program. He then did the research and took the training needed to head the effort in North Charleston.
“It lets your patrons know where you stand on hate crimes because hate has no place in our communities,” Etminan said. “But more importantly, it says to any victim, that no matter your background or status, you will be heard, and you will be treated with care, dignity and respect from the business you enter as well as the police officers who respond to investigate.”
The program has already been implemented in more than 300 communities nationwide. The Charleston Police Department was the first in the state to implement the program in 2020.
The new push by North Charleston Police comes as South Carolina remains one of only two states in the nation without a statewide hate crime law.
North Charleston Police Chief Reggie Burgess says he is fully in support of a hate crime law.
“We have discussions about it all the time because it seems that when you hate somebody, you’re driven to harm somebody and we get that all the time,” Burgess said. “We need to have a hate crime bill. We do. Because if we’re going to serve the people we are sworn to serve and serve the people who elected them, we can do it when we have teeth to it.”
State Rep. Wendell Gilliard (D-Charleston) has been working to get a bill through the state house for years. It did not make it through the 2022 legislation session and he has already gotten to work on this year’s session.
The Clementa C. Pinckney Hate Crimes Act is named for the pastor who was killed along with eight of his parishioners in the June 17, 2015, Mother Emanuel AME Church shooting. The bill would create additional penalties for people convicted of committing hate crimes.
“We owe this to all nine victims that died in that tragedy,” Gilliard said. “We owe that to them. It was my commitment. We have good people behind it in the house. We have strong bipartisan support. And we would hope now that when it gets to the Senate, that they will not hesitate to do what’s right by one of their own. You’d have to remember Senator Clemente Pinckney was one of their own soldiers. It was a badge of honor to serve in the General Assembly as a state senator.”
Hate crimes are defined as those that target victims based on their race, color, religion, sex, gender, national origin, sexual orientation, or physical or mental disability. If the crime is proven to be sparked because of any of those factors, the perpetrator could face an additional fine of up to $10,000 or an additional sentence of up to 5 years in prison.
Gilliard pre-filed the bill in early December. The bill was read at the house on Jan. 10, and has since been referred to the Committee on Judiciary and garnered more than 60 sponsors. Some of those sponsors include Rep. Justin Bamberg (D-Bamberg) and Elizabeth “Spencer” Whetmore (D-Charleston).
The hate crime bill passed in the full Judiciary Committee this week, and moves back into the house for a full vote.
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