The mass killing in Pittsburgh is being called a hate crime, resulting in multiple federal and state charges. News Three found there are five states that don’t have a hate crime law, Georgia and South Carolina are two of them.
Hate crime is defined as a criminal act motivated by bias towards things like race, religion, sexual orientation, and gender. They can result in minor charges or they can be felony charges, some eligible for the death penalty.
“This was the largest murder of Jews in American history,” said Rabbi Brad Bloom with the Congregation Beth Yam on Hilton Head Island, “We’re used to antisemitism, there’s been an uptick in anti-semitic incidents in America, but to go to this extent of murdering in the synagogue…”
The mass shooting took 11 lives at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh Saturday. Officials say the suspect, Robert Bowers, had a history of hate online, regularly posting anti-semitic threats, pictures, and conspiracy theories on a free speech site called ‘Gab’. His biography read: “Jews are the children of Satan.”
Just hours before the shooting, he posted the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society “likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”
“We would’ve never believed that we would be here with 11 murdered. But I’m sure… that they said the same thing at Mother Emmanuel in Charleston,” Bloom said, referencing the nine African Americans shot and killed in a South Carolina church in 2015. The shooter, Dylann Roof, was a self-avowed white supremacist.
Bowers faces 15 counts of hate crime on a federal level and 13 counts by the state of Pennsylvania…. charges that don’t exist in Georgia or South Carolina.
“For whatever reason, the 170 men and women who serve in the South Carolina legislature have not seen fit to pass legislation that addresses hate crimes, I mean it’s just that simple. It’s not a priority. There are a lot of members, a lot of my colleagues who don’t think it’s necessary,” South Carolina Representative Gilda Cobb-Hunter told News Three in a phone call Monday.
Cobb-Hunter proposed the bill to the house last year, but it never even got a hearing.
“It was referred to committee and then nothing,” Cobb-Hunter said, “I think it’s even more clear now that in South Carolina we need a hate crime bill… I think that is a different level of crime that ought to be legislated.”
She referenced a Lowcountry transgender woman assaulted in August, and another killed in a suspected arson case in Orangeburg this month.
Cobb-Hunter says she plans to pre-file the bill again before session begins this January and she hopes this time, it becomes law.
Rabbi Bloom said he and a new group he founded will also advocate for the law. Bloom started the Lowcountry Coalition Against Hate about one month ago, after hearing Hilton Head Island mayoral candidates either deny the Holocaust or support Adolf Hitler.
Bloom said the group’s first mission is to encourage acceptance in leadership.
“We’ve got to do better. America has got to do better,” he said, “Silence is a form of assent.”
The group held a vigil for the 11 Pittsburgh victims at the Hilton Head synagogue Sunday evening, hosting hundreds of people from Georgia and South Carolina, including church leaders from all religions.
Their next event is a mayoral forum on the topic of hate speech. That is Tuesday, October 30, from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Hilton Head Public Service District Community Room 21 Oak Park Drive.