Reported hate crimes on the rise in the Carolinas as SC lawmakers push for hate crime statute

Reported hate crimes on the rise in the Carolinas as SC lawmakers push for hate crime statute

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - It was a fire that left many in Rock Hill devastated.

Pak's Martial Arts Fitness Center went up in smoke in 2009 and in the aftermath, deputies found clear evidence there was burning hatred and racism that stoked the fire.

But in November 2018 there was a break in the case.

York County Sheriff's Office arrested Robert Lester and Catherine Neal in connection with the fire. Nine years after it happened, they charged them with arson, conspiracy and burglary but nowhere in that list of charges is there one for committing a hate crime

"We have to send a message. We have to put everybody on notice that we're not going to tolerate this anymore," South Carolina State Representative Wendell Gilliard said.

For the third year in a row South Carolina State Representative Wendell Gilliard is sponsoring a bill to make hate crimes a punishable offense. South Carolina is one of just five states in the country that has no hate crime statute.

By virtue of the history of where I'm from, the history of South Carolina we need a hate crime bill," Rep. Gilliard said.

Gilliard represents the Charleston area.

On June 17, 2015, nine members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church were shot and killed. Evidence from the shooter’s past clearly painted him as someone consumed by racism and hate.

"It matters to that African American population to know why they were targeted," Cynthia Deitle with the Matthew Shepard Foundation said.

Deitle is a former FBI agent. She says it's clear why South Carolina should pass a hate crime bill.

"They weren't targeted for robbery. He didn't steal anything. He went in there purposefully to harm African Americans. It matters to that community that that motive be exposed and crushed all at the same time." Deitle said.

"When you see upticks of incidents you have to ask yourself what is driving that now," Charlotte City Councilman Braxton Winston said.

Winston rose to prominence in protests for racial equity in policing.

Numbers from the FBI paint a disturbing picture of the growing trend of hate crimes.

From 2016 to 2017 in North Carolina there was a 12 percent jump in reported hate crimes.

In South Carolina the number jumped from 23 in 2016 to 87 in 2017. Winston says a lack of understanding may be to blame.

To search through hate crime data by year and by state click here.

"We are becoming a much more polarized society as a whole. You know here in Charlotte we recognize that that for far too long we developed as city even within our neighborhoods as silos," Winston said.

Gilliard is hoping his colleagues in Columbia see the hate crime statute from his perspective this year.

“It will be a benefit to our citizens and our law enforcement, I think it’s time we jump on board with the other states,” Gilliard said.

Copyright 2019 WBTV. All rights reserved.