A Richland County state lawmaker says she will file legislation that would make threats to kill or harm anyone based on race, religion, sexual orientation or nationality a crime in South Carolina.
State Sen. Mia McLeod, D-Richland, also wants to require principals, teachers and school administrators to report such threats to local law enforcement.
McLeod announced Tuesday she’s drafting the bills in response to videos of a 16-year-old Cardinal Newman student making racist, violent threats, which led to his “forced withdrawal” from the school and arrest. The private Catholic school is in McLeod’s northeast Columbia district.
“As we face unimaginable heartbreak in El Paso and Dayton caused by hate-fueled attacks, we’re also confronted with a disgusting display of white supremacy here at home,” McLeod said in a statement.
Threats of violence are already a crime under state law. McLeod’s bill would create a new statute that would specifically single out threats made based on race, religion, sexual orientation, or nationality and provide enhances penalties, McLeod told The State.
McLeod called the video of the student using a racial slur and firing a rifle at props he suggested represented black people “terrifying and vile.”
The Cardinal Newman student was shown in videos calling black people by a derogatory term and shooting at a box of sneakers he said were popular with blacks. He said he hated black people.
Later, in a series of texts that included a video, the teenager threatened a shooting at the school, according to the Richland County Sheriff’s Department. The threat was enough to prompt the Sheriff’s Department to arrest him on a charge of making student threats.
The department charged the high school student under a state law that says its unlawful for a student “to make threats to take the life of or to inflict bodily harm upon another by using any form of communication whatsoever.”
Sheriff’s Department officials, though, said they could not have arrested and charged the student based solely on the videos of the student’s racist, hate-filled remarks and aggressive behavior. The department is considering holding a press conference later this week to discuss the case.
South Carolina is one of four states that has no hate crime law on the books.
State Sen. Darrell Jackson, D-Richland, announced Monday that he would re-file legislation to define hate crimes in South Carolina and increase penalties for anyone who commits a hate crime.
Federal law makes it a crime to use or attempt to use a dangerous weapon because of the actual or perceived religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability of any person.
“Other than threatening to shoot up the school, he had not committed a crime and that’s unconscionable to me,” McLeod said, adding it should be considered a crime to behave the way the student behaved in the videos. “It’s a public safety issue. ... He had the ammunition in hand and showed us what he intended to do with it. He showed us exactly what he planned to do. If that’s not a credible threat, I don’t know what is.
“That takes it way beyond hate speech. That takes it to malicious intent,” she said.
McLeod said the proposed bills are still being drafted, but will be modeled based on federal hate crimes legislation in hopes to “deter acts of domestic terror and hold those who commit them accountable.”
State law currently requires school officials to report any threats by students to harm themselves or others to law enforcement, according to the S.C. Department of Education.
School officials must notify law enforcement immediately whenever there “appears to be a clear and immediate threat of serious violence toward others that require containment and action to protect identified or identifiable targets,” according to the state Education Department’s best practices for assessing school-based threats. The guidelines also say school officials should contact law enforcement promptly if a student exhibits “other concerning behavior that require intervention.”
However, state law is unclear when it comes to indirect, racially-motivated threats made by students towards a group of people, S.C. Senate Democratic Caucus spokeswoman Meghan Durant said.
McLeod said her mandatory reporting bill seeks to clear up ambiguity and codify in state law that hate-filled, racist threats like the ones made by the Cardinal Newman student must be reported to law enforcement, instead of potentially being viewed as bullying, Durant said.
“If you see or hear or become aware of a threat like that, whether they think it’s credible or not ... I think it’s incumbent to pass that information on to law enforcement and let law enforcement decide whether it’s credible,” McLeod said, adding she’d rather err on the side of caution, given the deadly shootings happening across the country.
“I don’t want us to wait for the next mass shooting. And I don’t want it to occur here in South Carolina.”
Kathy Maness, executive director of the Palmetto State Teachers Association, was reticent to comment on McLeod’s proposed bills without seeing the actual legislation.
But said “its is very important to our association that students and educators are safe.”
“And, if there is a threat, then teachers need to make that known to the appropriate personnel, because we need to do everything we can in South Carolina to keep our students safe.”