Local officials have called the mass shooting at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, a hate crime — but under South Carolina's state law, there's actually no such thing.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, South Carolina is one of six states — along with Arkansas, Indiana, Georgia, Utah, and Wyoming — that has no hate crime penalty law.
Federal law, which does apply to South Carolina, penalizes hate crimes. But these cases require federal law enforcement to get involved and proceedings in federal courts, which deal with far fewer criminal cases than state courts. It typically takes high-profile cases to get the feds' attention to investigate an act as a hate crime, as the FBI has said it's doing in the Charleston shooting.
When a hate crime is prosecuted, it's typically layered on top of other charges, adding criminal penalties. So if someone commits a murder and it's deemed a hate crime, he faces criminal penalties for both the murder and the hate crime. The extra penalties are supposed to deter and punish people for acts against certain groups of people.
As ThinkProgress's Aviva Shen reported, State Rep. Wendell Gilliard, who represents the district where the Charleston church is located, has worked to pass a hate crime law in South Carolina. But his efforts have been unsuccessful — leaving the state as one of the few without extra penalties for racially motivated attacks.