WANDERING EYE ‌ Motivated by Bias 

Another senseless death proves we need a hate crime law in S.C.

The death of a 20-year-old young man at the hands of an 18-year-old young man in Greenville wouldn't necessarily be a remarkable happening in a normal news cycle. But this isn't a normal story, although it is one with which we are all too familiar.

Sean William Kennedy was buried by his family on May 20 because Stephen Andrew Moller allegedly punched Kennedy in the face, causing his death, because Kennedy was homosexual.

Kennedy and Moller separately attended a teen night at Brew's, a Greenville bar, on May 16. According to a Greenville County Sheriff's incident report (3:45 a.m.) and news accounts, Moller allegedly verbally harassed Kennedy over Kennedy's sexual orientation.

After Kennedy left the bar on foot, a witness stated that a silver sedan with three males pulled up next to Kennedy and another man exited the front passenger seat and verbally confronted Kennedy.

He then punched Kennedy one time in his face, causing Kennedy to fall backwards, hit his skull on the pavement, and fall unconscious.

Kennedy later died in the hospital, and Moller turned himself in that same morning.

Moller remains in the Greenville County Detention Center charged with murder —"without legal provocation with implication that this was a result of the defendant not liking the sexual identity of the victim," according to the arrest warrant.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has been invited by the Greenville County Sheriff's Office to suss out whether the incident meets the jurisdictional and subject matter standards of federal hate crimes legislation because South Carolina has no hate crimes statutes.

Currently, H. 3738 and S.440 in the are in the General Assembly's legislative pipeline and are sponsored by Rep. Seth Whipper (D-Chas) and Sen. Robert Ford (D-Chas) respectively.

Neither bill is expected to make it to the full floor before the end of the current session of the General Assembly and should carry over to the next session, which convenes January 2008.

In a press release, Sen. Ford said, "I introduced S. 440 to safeguard minorities against hate-motivated violent crime like the alleged murder of Sean Kennedy ... His untimely passing reminds us why we need hate crimes laws in this state."

Ford has a point. South Carolina is one of only three states without a hate crimes law. Fifteen other states have hate crime laws, but don't include violations motivated by prejudice based upon sexual orientation.

Jamie Fore, president of Greenville Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), commented, "Of course, our PFLAG parents are deeply saddened by this young man's premature passing, and any of their children could have been victims like this young man. The saddest thing of all is that Sean's life was cut short before he even had a chance."

In a perverse way, so was Moller's. I wonder who taught him it was OK to do what he's charged with.

The Rev. Donna Stroud, of the Metropolitan Community Church in Duncan, S.C., added, "This is the third known act of violence against members of our community in the Upstate since the passage of Amendment One last November."

Alliance For Full Acceptance founder and past director of the S.C. Equality Coalition Linda Ketner said, "In a way, we're all responsible for Sean Kennedy's murder. Rev. King said, 'we'll have to repent in this generation not for the words and deeds of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people'."

She added, "Our appalling silence led to a beautiful young man's life being snuffed out by a stranger who felt allowed by our violent and bigoted culture to attack someone he had never met. It's past time for the good people to speak up ... way past time."

This is all well and good, but the lack of hate crimes laws in this state isn't going to raise the dead or bring comfort to Kennedy's family.

Here's an idea. How about using the law that is there and charge all three of the boys in that silver car with first-degree lynching?

I suspect that South Carolina's long and storied past of burying bias crimes is on the verge of repeating itself.

That is, of course, only if the "good people" let it.


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