COLUMBIA, SC (AP) – The parents of a mentally ill black man who died in a South Carolina prison after being shocked by employees who knelt on his back until he stopped breathing are asking the State lawmakers to pass both a hate crimes law and a bill specifying excessive force by officers is illegal.
Jamal Sutherland’s parents appeared on Wednesday with members of the Black Legislative Caucus unhappy with the blocking of proposals in the General Assembly.
“These bills will bring responsibilities. Responsibility brings consequences. And the consequences lead to a change in behavior,” said James Sutherland.
The South Carolina House passed a bill last year allowing prosecutors to seek additional jail time for anyone who commits a violent crime fueled by hatred of race, sexual orientation, gender, religion or disability of the victim. South Carolina and Wyoming are the only states without hate crime laws.
The bill passed the House after a long and tenacious struggle and was introduced in the Senate. But the senators made no effort to raise it. Time is running out – if the bill does not pass before the end of the General Assembly session in May, the hate crimes proposal is back to square one.
Ten senators, all Republicans, have a written objection to the bill that makes it difficult to debate. Republican Senate leaders have said a hate crimes law is not needed because there are already penalties for crimes like murder and assault and a federal hate crimes law has taken care of the most egregious cases, such as the murder of nine black church members in a racist attack on a Charleston church.
The bill is called the “Clementa C. Pinckney Hate Crimes Act” after the pastor and state senator was killed along with his parishioners at Emanuel AME Church in 2015.
Longtime civil rights advocate Reverend Nelson B. Rivers said it was absurd that the hate crimes bill was still sitting in the Senate.
“There’s no middle ground in this. Either you’re for it or you’re against it. Why do you support hate? Who would stand on the side of hate?” Rivers said.
Jamal Sutherland’s parents have also called on the General Assembly to pass two bills introduced after his death. One of them would specifically make the use of excessive force when arresting or detaining a person a crime.
Prosecutor Scarlet Wilson called the prison officers’ actions “damning” but said they were not against the law because the officers were following their poor training to be aggressive with inmates and the State had no specific excessive force law. The officers were fired.
Sutherland, 31, had been jailed in Charleston County Jail the day before his death in January 2021 for a misdemeanor after officers arrested him while investigating a fight at a mental health and rehabilitation center. substance addiction. His death drew national attention after county officials released video of the incident months later.
The second bill backed by Sutherland’s family would ban the use of force to get a mentally ill person to attend a bail hearing and require a mental health assessment if someone appears to need one before a bail hearing.
Amy Sutherland has asked lawmakers to pass the bill bearing her son’s name so she can have comfort that another mother won’t suffer like her.
“I have to relive it over and over again because my condition won’t do the right thing,” she said.
The family also called on state or federal prosecutors to review local prosecutors’ decision not to charge the jail officers.
Wilson said the law leaves her no choice but not to charge the officers, but she welcomes any review and appreciates the family’s determination and persistence.
Rivers, alongside a dozen lawmakers, said his decades of fighting for civil rights in South Carolina left him sad, but not surprised that the state was one of the last to have a crimes law. hateful.
“Why is it so hard, always so hard in South Carolina to do the right thing? We just can’t get a vote,” Rivers said. “We have to fight, we have to plead, we have to march, we have to protest because in South Carolina doing the right thing is a tough thing.
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