South Carolina is one of only five states in the U.S. that does not have a hate crime statute on the books. And in the wake of the recent tragic events at a church in Charleston, state Rep. Wendell Gilliard told BuzzFeed News he wants that to change sooner rather later.
Gilliard had already made it known after nine people were gunned down inside the historic Emanuel AME Church last week that a hate crime bill would be his "first priority" when the state legislature convened for its next scheduled session in January 2016. But now Gilliard, who represents the district where the shooting occurred, will try to move that timeline up by asking the legislature on Tuesday to extend its current session so that he can introduce a hate crime bill.
"We’ll see how that goes," he said.
If the legislature agrees, Gilliard will need a two-thirds majority in the House and the Senate to move forward and set a special date for discussing and voting on the bill.
“This is important to the majority of the citizens, including myself,” Gilliard said.
His bill, Gilliard added, will be “plain and simple” and mirror those in most other states, which call for an enhanced penalty when a crime is motivated by prejudice against race, gender, national origin, religion, or sexual orientation.
In 2013, Gilliard introduced a bill that would have imposed fines of at least $2,000 and up to 15 years in jail for hate crime offenses, but he was unable to get it through the House judiciary committee.
According to police, alleged Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof, 21, told investigators after his arrest that he had hoped the killings would spark a “race war.” Three days after the shooting, his apparent manifesto detailing a hatred toward black people, Jews, and Latinos appeared online.
Despite the lack of a hate crime law in South Carolina, Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen said last week that authorities "believe this is a hate crime; that is how we are investigating it.”
Attorney General Loretta Lynch also announced last week that the Department of Justice had opened a federal hate crime investigation into the shooting.
The only other states without hate crime statutes are Georgia, Indiana, Wyoming, and Arkansas.
Indiana state Sen. Greg Taylor said he hopes his state won’t wait until next year to discuss passing a hate crime bill.
“Dialogue has to begin now,” Taylor told BuzzFeed News.
Taylor, who introduced a hate crime bill in 2014 that failed to pass the Senate Committee on Corrections and Criminal Law, said he hopes to convene a group of state lawmakers and clergy this summer to discuss reintroducing the legislation, but had not decided if he would call for a special session.
“I would think that my constituents would want me to be more proactive than reactive,” Taylor said. “I’m afraid if we don’t do something now, when something like Charleston happens in Indiana, I will have to react.”
Michael Hayes is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Mike Hayes at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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