Community and law enforcement leaders from across South Carolina met Wednesday to discuss the epidemic of gun violence and to call for state legislators to pass pending hate crime and gun-related bills.
“Assault weapons are instruments of war,” said Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook, becoming the latest local law enforcement leader to join calls for reforms. Holbrook specifically said the state should pass red flag laws and ban assault weapons.
The meeting — which took place just off Decker Boulevard, a community rocked by gun violence — was attended by members of the state and local law enforcement communities, state representatives, church leaders, gun control and civil right activists . About 50 community members attended the three hour event.
State Rep. Wendy Brawley, D-Richland, lead the call to her fellow lawmakers to pass hate crime legislation, and urged voters to put more pressure on her Republican colleagues.
“If we aren’t doing our first job, which is keeping you safe ... we aren’t doing the work of the government,” Brawley said.
“We are here to mobilize,” she later added. “At the end of the day, I’m up here doing what I’m going to do, but I need you.”
South Carolina currently does not have a hate crime law on the books, meaning if someone commits a crime against a minority group, only federal agencies like the FBI can charge them with a hate crime.
The call for passing hate crime legislation in South Carolina was reignited after the shootings last week in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas. Authorities have said the alleged El Paso Walmart shooter had ties to a racist manifesto posted online shortly before the massacre took place.
A hate crime bill has been introduced in the S.C. House, but it has not made it out of committee. After the Ohio and Texas shootings, S.C. Democrats vowed to reintroduce and champion the legislation.
But to get it out of committee, Brawley, state Rep. Ivory Thigpen and Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, who endorsed passing the legislation last week, urged community members Wednesday to speak out.
“We really need your help,” Thigpen, D-Richland, said. “The more vocal you are, the more visible you are, the more you can help.”
Thigpen called on community members to look up their legislators and call them.
“Your voice needs to be louder,” Lott added.
Lott and others said the state cannot rely on federal hate crime laws to be enough to address certain types of crimes.
For example, Lott said, juveniles can’t be charged under federal hate crime laws it. Specifically, he pointed to the example of a 16-year-old student at Cardinal Newman School who threatened to “shoot up the school” in a racist video.
Hate crime legislation has been introduced several times in the state legislature, but has never passed.
“They’re not going to change their vote unless you make them,” Brawley said. “And if they’re not going to listen to you, vote them out.”
Leaders to SC communities: work with police
Community members also called on each other to address gun violence in their own neighborhoods.
“All of us are concerned, and all of us need to address this,” Lawrence Moore, a Columbia community activist, said.
Kimani Davis, who is from Orangeburg County, told attendees at the meeting about his brother’s murder during a home robbery. After the shooting, no one in the local community would cooperate with police investigators, he said.
It took more than a year of investigating for officers to find the shooter, Davis said. He urged community members to work with law enforcement to stop shootings and report when they see what happened and to talk to their children about doing the same.
“If kids in our communities never see the good things that law enforcement does, they are just going to see the bad things on TV,” Davis said.
Lott and Holbrook stressed recent efforts their departments have made to reach out to the community. Orangeburg County Sheriff Leroy Ravenell recounted going to one of the more notoriously dangerous neighborhoods in his area and playing football with local children.