COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCBD) – State Rep. Wendell Gilliard on Tuesday delivered an impassioned plea to fellow lawmakers urging them to pass hate crime legislation before the end of the regular session this month.
Rep. Gillard, who represents areas in the Lowcountry, has been pushing for South Carolina to pass a bill targeting hate crimes in the state since the massacre at Mother Emanuel in June 2015.
The Clementa C. Pinckney Hate Crime Law, named after the late state senator and pastor who was killed in the church shooting, passed with bi-partisan’s support through the SC House of Representatives in 2021 but stalled in the state senate.
More than a dozen lawmakers and House staffers joined Rep. Gilliard on the House floor during his speech where he presented a message from Charleston.
“We want the world to see when we talk about hate crimes, this is not narrowed down to a people, a particular race- hate crimes come in all forms, all colors. Whether you’re white, Jewish, Black, no matter what creed or color. People have to understand that,” said Rep. Gilliard.
“A lot of people will ask us what would a hate crime law do? My answer is anytime you live in a state that you love and respect, and you see where there is a need for change, you want to be on the side of what we call “righteousness” and “justice” when they happen, because they will happen,” he said noting that he believed South Carolina was poised for a dangerous, hot summer.
He went on to say, “knowing that 48 other states have a hate crime law, we can’t stay here – get out of this category. Join the other states; unite and love and respect, because hate crimes will happen and now the world will say by God, what is going on in South Carolina that they didn’t get the memo? They didn’t get the message after Walter Scott. They didn’t get the message after Mother Emanuel. What’s wrong in South Carolina?”
Rep. Gilliard said harm should not come to anyone in the greatest county in the world for being different. “We are all we got,” he said.
“Don’t believe me? Just look at Ukraine. Don’t believe me? Look at Haiti. You don’t believe me? Look in the mirror,” he said. “Our democracy is under attack, people. We better wake up. Don’t wait until it is too late. When truth is crushed to the ground, one day it will rise again.”
Before wrapping up his emotional speech, Rep. Gilliard again played a message from Polly Sheppard, one of the survivors of the Charleston Church Shooting, who recalled the night a man entered the historic Black church in downtown Charleston and opened fire during a Bible study.
“On June 17, 2015, I looked into the eyes of hate when Dylann Roof told me to my face that he would let me live so I could tell the story. So, I’m telling you the story now, that hate killed your colleague and my former pastor Rev. Clementa Pinckney. So, I’m telling you now, that hate murdered nine members of my church. Hate intentionally selected Mother Emanuel because it is a Black church. Hate shocked the nation.”
Sheppard went on to say, “every time you look at Senator Pinckney’s photograph, you should be reminded that hate killed him. He was one of your colleagues. Hate murdered him. If we had a hate crimes law in South Carolina in 2015, our state should have charged Dylann Roof for killing the Emanuel Nine. We should be able to prosecute hate crimes without relying on the federal government.”
She called on eight State Senators to withdraw their objections so that the bill can pass, saying those senators are giving a safe haven to hate.
“Why are you holding up this bill,” she asked. “What is wrong with protecting us from hate crimes?”
She went on to say, “As a survivor of an infamous crime, I ask the South Carolina Senate to pass the hate crimes bill today. The time has come to do right.”