Last week, I took a stroll down to the July meeting of the friendly folks of the Alliance For Full Acceptance to see what they've been doing on their summer vacation.
The feature of the evening was a panel discussion of the proposed hate crimes bills for the next session of the General Assembly and included Brett Bursey of the S.C. Progressive Network, Sen. Robert Ford (D-Chas.), S.C. Rep. Seth Whipper (D.-Chas), and Elke Kennedy of Greenville.
Elke Kennedy is the mother of Sean Kennedy, the 20-year-old gay man who was punched in the face and killed by 18-year-old Stephen Moller outside a Greenville bar following a teen night promotion in late May of this year.
Moller allegedly verbally assaulted Kennedy with anti-gay slurs before approaching him from the rear in the parking lot and sucker-punching Kennedy, causing him to fall and suffer a fatal brain injury.
When it was Ms. Kennedy's turn to speak, she told the assembled that there were 40-50 of her son's friends waiting with her and her family in the emergency room.
Ms. Kennedy told about one of Sean's friends receiving a message from Moller, who allegedly said, "You tell your faggot friend that when he wakes up, he owes me $500 for my broken hand."
Moller has had two bond hearings to date and has been denied both times. He spends his time cooling his heels in the Greenville County Jail awaiting a yet-to-be scheduled trial date.
Ms. Kennedy is concerned Moller will be offered a plea bargain for a lesser charge. "What worries me is that my son's killer could serve no jail time and that terrifies me."
She continued, "We just have to keep what happened to my son in the public eye."
Rep. Seth Whipper and Sen. Robert Ford have introduced hate-crimes bills (H. 3738 and S. 440) into their respective chambers of the General Assembly for the next term.
Both bills would provide for penalty enhancement (between $2,000 and $10,000 and two and 15 years imprisonment) for assaults on the person or property of a person who was targeted because of race, creed, gender, age, national origin, color, and sexual orientation.
Now, there's a lot of people out there who don't see the need for hate crimes legislation because South Carolina has a storied past as a "hangin' state."
Brett Bursey drew a parallel between the proposed hate crime bills and the brand-new discrimination incorporated into the state Constitution with the anti-gay marriage amendment referendum of the last election.
"We've got plenty of hypocrisy in South Carolina," he said. "We can afford to give some of it away. Dr. King said that there can't be different gradients of equality and we need to go on record to say that just because someone is different doesn't mean they have to be discriminated against."
Prior to jetting out to D.C. to meet his candidate ("Sista' Hillary Clinton — she's gonna win y'all!") Ford commented, "I've worked in civil rights all my life, and I thought everybody had them until Linda Ketner showed me that gay people didn't. Now my job is to simply get it done. This is the most powerful country in the world, and we need to do everything to get all the states on board and give basic Americanisms to everyone."
This is essentially a story about loss, both to families and communities, and how unnecessary and preventable these kinds of losses are.
When Sean Kennedy and Stephen Moller encountered each other that night in late May, we were all diminished as citizens and as people because we failed to set a better example for both boys.
We can do better.