In the absence of state government action, local governments are considering hate crime ordinances. The most recent is Conway, where a white couple allegedly (although there is visual proof) burned a cross in their yard but in the direction of the yard of a black couple from Charlotte’s vacation home.
The white couple was arrested for something like criminal mischief but they cannot be charged with a hate crime, presumably because the state would have the burden of proof of hate in their heart. Oh yes, also because, South Carolina like Wyoming does not have a hate crime statute - 48 states, thankfully, have decided to “buck the trend.”
The story has legs because the offended and harassed couple lives in Charlotte which has a large and hungry media market, and because every chance to make South Carolina look bad is eagerly accepted by other states’ and national media. In their defense, we do a lot of stuff to merit the unwanted attention.
And, it will get worse next month. Democrats running for president will be here in advance of the Feb. 3 preference primary. Republicans running for president, if there are any but One still in the race, will be here in advance of the Feb. 24 preference primary. Prime Time for the national media to do, yet another, South Carolina story.
The one in question here gets a very good treatment from the Post & Courier’s Pee Dee writer Charles D. Perry on Jan. 3. The cross burning attracted the attention of CAIR (the Council on American-Islamic Relations) which a statement said “echoed” the call of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for the adoption of a South Carolina hate crime bill.
But instead of drafting and passing the toughest hate crime bill in the nation, instead of being a leader, the South Carolina General Assembly has done nothing.
Primarily because, we have enough laws as it is. And, if we just enforce the laws we have now that will be enough. And, well, they’re not burning crosses on our yard, so what’s the problem.
A TV station reported that the Federal Bureau of Investigation got interested enough to issue a statement:
We are working jointly with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, as well as our local and state partners, to thoroughly examine this matter, and we’re dedicated to ensuring equality and fairness within our communities.
We have also been in communication with local community organizations to understand their concerns surrounding this matter and to emphasize our commitment to fostering trust and accountability.
As this is an ongoing investigation, additional details cannot be provided, but rest assured, we are dedicated to this matter and the civil rights of all Americans.
Just for the record, the people involved in this sorry saga are Worden Butler and Alexis Hartnett of Corbett Drive in Conway, both in their 20s, who were arrested, and Shawn and Monica Williams who told the TV that a burning cross was facing their home during the Thanksgiving weekend.
I’m writing about it now because it just seems fitting after the National Holiday for the birth of Civil Rights icon The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who undoubtedly saw many a burning cross in his tragically too short lifetime.
And because President Biden just gave an impassioned speech at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, on the mass shooting’s anniversary, and the deceased pastor there is proposed to have a South Carolina hate crime law passed in his honor, the proposed Clementa C. Pickney Hate Crime Law in South Carolina. A report says the act has gotten no traction in the South Carolina Senate.
CAIR and the NAACP support the law, and nobody really opposes it, they just won’t move on it.
The Horry County Police Chief Joseph Hill calls the cross burning, and presumably the racial-hatred harassment in their county seat, unacceptable.
So, in order to get something done, Cities are adopting misdemeanor hate crime laws. Conway Mayor Barbara Blain-Bellamy almost immediately instructed city legal experts to figure out how to protect people of color and gay people from harassment. Presumably, the protection also would extend to white people.
Charleston, Greenville, Columbia, Bluffton, and Mount Pleasant have passed or are finalizing hate crime enhancements to violent crimes, according to the Post & Courier article, to add 30 days in jail and a $500 fine for being a hateful racist or sexist or genderist, or sexual orientationalist. Myrtle Beach has urged the state legislature to pass the bill, the report says.
That is the extent of what a local ordinance can do - 30 days of free meals at the county lockup alongside Otis the town drunk.
Conway city officials discussed the matter at a Jan. 2 council meeting - the city has an issue with a proposed ordinance common throughout South Carolina, the alleged cross-burning happened in the unincorporated area just outside the city limits. You would have to burn a cross inside the city limits to get the local sentencing enhancement, if there was one.
To make a hate crime ordinance effective in these other cases, you would have to get the county council to pass an ordinance. A story, as they say, for another day.
Vic MacDonald is Editor of The Clinton Chronicle. In June, 2025, he will observe his 50th year in community journalism. Reach him at 864-833-1900 or firstname.lastname@example.org.