Local leaders hopeful for movement on a hate crime law after trans woman's death in North Charleston 

Hard to Ignore

click to enlarge A makeshift memorial marks the area near where Denali Berries Stuckey was found in the early morning of July 20

Ruta Smith

A makeshift memorial marks the area near where Denali Berries Stuckey was found in the early morning of July 20

The nondescript building at the end of Reynolds Avenue won't have its grand opening for a few weeks. But on July 22, hundreds gathered outside the Equality Hub at 1801 Reynolds Ave. to honor Denali Berries Stuckey, a local entrepreneur, and the third black transgender woman known to have been killed in South Carolina in the last 16 months.

Stuckey's death comes as violence against trans women of color continues at an alarming rate, according to one local LGBTQ group leader.

"While the greater community may be either unaware or disinterested in this news, it is important to understand the epidemic of violence against trans women of color and the crisis point at which we are now and have been for years," said Chase Glenn, executive director of the Alliance for Full Acceptance, in a statement on July 21, a day after Stuckey's death.

At least two other trans women of color have suffered violent deaths in S.C. since April 2018.

Sasha Wall was found dead on April 1, 2018, suffering from multiple gunshots in a car in Chesterfield County. The FBI reportedly assisted in the initial response, but the investigation is ongoing. It's unknown if Wall's gender identity played a role in her death.

Regina Denise Brown was found dead inside a house that was set fire in Orangeburg on Oct. 12, 2018. A man has reportedly been charged with arson and murder in her death, but it's unknown if Brown's gender identity played a role.

Nationally, Stuckey's death marks at least the 12th case of deadly violence against the transgender community in 2019.

click to enlarge Chase Glenn, AFFA - RUTA SMITH
  • Ruta Smith
  • Chase Glenn, AFFA

North Charleston police are continuing to investigate Stuckey's death as a homicide, saying they do not have information indicating it was a hate crime, but have not ruled out the possibility either.

Regardless, the law would treat Stuckey, Wall, and Brown's deaths no differently if they were determined to have been hate-motivated crimes. South Carolina remains one of four states without a hate crime law.

After the murders at Mother Emanuel, which were prosecuted as hate crimes under federal law, and with S.C. lawmakers taking no action to add a state hate crime law to the books, the City of Charleston passed its own hate crime ordinance in 2018. The ordinance, which can tack on a $500 fine and 30 days in jail to hate crimes committed in the city, was viewed as symbolic to at least one conservative member of council. But noting bias motivation can also help track hate crimes when they're reported to the feds.

"If someone is harassing someone because of their sexual orientation or because of their race, and gets in an altercation and it's clear it was about discrimination and hate, we won't tolerate or accept hate even at those levels," Mayor John Tecklenburg said at the time.

No such law exists in the City of North Charleston, where Stuckey was found shot to death off Carner Avenue at 4:05 a.m. on July 20.

"The motives of the death of Denali Berries Stuckey are still being investigated," city spokesman Ryan Johnson said in a statement on July 22. "But we hope that through this tragic act, greater awareness is gained of the continuing discrimination and harassment of the LGBTQ community, and hope that one day, our society will achieve true full acceptance of all."

North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey does support the passage of a state hate crime law, according to Johnson.

"Hate crimes are almost universally crimes of violence. Such crimes warrant punishment beyond the jurisdictional range that any municipality can impose. Effective hate crimes legislation must come from the state or federal legislature," Johnson continued.

Democratic state Rep. Wendell Gilliard, who has attempted to pass three hate crime bills, is hopeful that H.3063 will make progress in January when the legislature returns. The bill's next stop is the House Judiciary Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Peter McCoy, a Republican from James Island who is a sponsor of the bill. Rep. David Mack, who represents the area where Stuckey was found, is also a sponsor.

Gilliard says it would be helpful for local leaders to mobilize support behind the bill as well. "It's one thing to tell you something, but another thing to do something about it," he says.

"Shameful" is how Glenn describes the fact that South Carolina lawmakers haven't already passed a hate crime law.

"This isn't just about transgender people being targets for hate and violence. This is about anyone who might be a target because of the color of their skin, the way they worship, who they love, or how they live," Glenn says. "Passing a hate crime law is a basic protection for the people of South Carolina and our legislators don't even seem to care."

Glenn predicts that a diverse coalition of supporters will be needed to force attention on proposed hate crime laws.

"It's going to be hard to ignore us."

The Equality Hub will celebrate its opening on Aug. 10 as a collaboration between AFFA, We Are Family, and Charleston Pride, with resources available to the public to host meetings and serve as a gathering place for the LGBTQ community.

A GoFundMe campaign has been started by loved ones to help pay for Denali's funeral expenses. Find it at gf.me/u/ucyvky


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