To the Editor:

Lowcountry Coalition Against Hate (LCAH) and Hilton Head MLK Committee for Justice (HH MLK CFJ) are appalled by the last month’s sexist, racist and anti-Semitic vandalism at the Hardeeville Fairfield Inn. As reported in the Island Packet Feb. 18, three May River High School students face charges after police say they spray painted Nazi swastikas, two uses of the N-word, “white power” and “the South will rise again,” and three profanities aimed at LGBTQ+, Spanish-speaking, and Jewish individuals.

LCAH and HH MLK CFJ support the Beaufort County School District in its initiative to create an equity and inclusion task force.

The Hardeeville Police Department charged the perpetrators with burglary in the second degree and malicious injury to property. The charges should have included ones against hate. But those charges are not possible in South Carolina because South Carolina is one of only three states that does not have a Hate Crime Law.

Hate crimes can terrorize entire communities – not just the people who share the targeted characteristics with the victims, but also neighbors and other citizens who may wonder, “Will I be next?”

This is what makes hate-crime laws so necessary – these are crimes of outsized impact that need to be met with enhanced penalties. Hate-crime laws apply only when there is an underlying crime to prosecute. The First Amendment protects speech – even bigoted and ignorant speech – and LCAH and HH MLK CFJ defend this vital democratic freedom.

Biased language must be combated with positive speech from community members and leaders. But when someone goes beyond speech and commits a crime inspired by hate, then hate-crime laws have a vital role to play in ensuring justice and protecting the entire community.

Join the call for a South Carolina Hate Crime Bill at stampouthate.sc and join our organizations to create a more equitable and inclusive community.

Risa Sreden Prince, President

Lowcountry Coalition Against Hate

Galen Miller, President

Hilton Head MLK Committee for Justice