South Carolina drag­ging death fu­els hate crime charge de­bate

Austin American-Statesman - - WORLD & NATION - By Meg Kinnard

NEW­BERRY, S.C. — For the New Black Pan­ther Party, it’s sim­ple: A black man be­ing shot to death by a white man and dragged for miles be­hind a pickup truck is a racial hate crime.

For lo­cal au­thor­i­ties and res­i­dents in this city of 11,000 in cen­tral South Carolina, it’s not so clear: The sus­pect and the vic­tim were ap­par­ently friends, of­ten eat­ing lunch to­gether at the turkey pro­cess­ing plant where they worked. In­ves­ti­ga­tors say they spent sev­eral hours to­gether be­fore the grue­some slay­ing. And some spec­u­late whether it started with an ar­gu­ment about a woman.

Fed­eral au­thor­i­ties haven’t yet de­cided whether to clas­sify the killing of An­thony Hill, 30, as a hate crime. State au­thor­i­ties are still in­ves­ti­gat­ing and mon­i­tor­ing news con­fer­ences by the black ac­tivist group, which plans a rally to­day on its in­sis­tence that Hill was killed be­cause of his color.

“Cer­tain types of killings, like be­ing dragged be­hind a pickup truck, are ves­tiges of slav­ery and Jim Crow-type pun­ish­ments,” said Ma­lik Zulu Shabazz, pres­i­dent of the New Black Pan­ther Party. “They’re in­her­ently hate crimes. That’s our po­si­tion — that any time a black per­son is dragged be­hind a pickup truck, au­to­mat­i­cally, there is a pre­sump­tion that it is a hate crime.”

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion be­gan early in the morn­ing June 2, when a pass­ing mo­torist saw a body on the side of a main road through New­berry. About 41 per­cent of its peo­ple are black, 53 per­cent white.

Of­fi­cials say Hill, a for­mer fire­fighter in the Na­tional Guard, was killed by a sin­gle gun­shot to the head be­fore he was dragged.

On the as­phalt near his body, in­ves­ti­ga­tors no­ticed a dark, bloody stain, the end point of an 11-mile trail they traced back to the home of Gre­gory Collins. Notic­ing a piece of rope hang­ing from the back of a pickup truck, deputies knocked on the door of Collins’ rented mo­bile home. Collins ap­peared and then re­treated, bar­ri­cad­ing him­self in his home for sev­eral hours, only sur­ren­der­ing af­ter be­ing forced out with tear gas.

Quickly ar rested and charged with Hill’s murder, the 19-year-old white man has been held in iso­la­tion in the lo­cal jail, and his bail has not been set. His pub­lic de­fender hasn’t com­mented.

State po­lice and the FBI ar­rived to as­sist New­berry County sher­iff’s deputies with the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into whether the death was a hate crime, a de­ter­mi­na­tion that will be up to the U.S. Jus­tice Depart­ment be­cause South Carolina has no hate crime statute.

Shabazz, who says he has helped sev­eral fam­i­lies through­out the coun­try af­fected by sim­i­lar crimes, says he has all the ev­i­dence he needs to see that Hill’s death should be a hate crime.

“The only op­tion is for the Jus­tice Depart­ment to in­ter­vene here and to charge Mr. Gre­gory Collins with a hate crime,” Shabazz said. “Just be­cause An­thony Hill was an ac­quain­tance of Gre­gory Collins, to us it’s not ma­te­rial.”

Maj. Todd John­son, a spokesman for the sher­iff’s of­fice, says the state murder in­ves­ti­ga­tion won’t be side­lined while fed­eral au­thor­i­ties con­sider the pos­si­bil­ity of a hate crime charge.

So­lic­i­tor Jerry Peace, New­berry County’s top pros­e­cu­tor, says he hasn’t yet de­ter­mined whether Collins could face the death penalty. U.S. At­tor­ney Bill Net­tles says he’ll dis­cuss the case file with Peace and other of­fi­cials.

In a bar­ber­shop he owns a few blocks away, 37-year-old Keith Su­ber says he knew Hill and feels that New­berry’s black com­mu­nity isn’t out­raged by the lack of a hate crime charge. He said he hopes the spot­light from the New Black Pan­thers may lead to com­mu­nity im­prove­ments for young peo­ple, like more pub­lic pools and recre­ation cen­ters.

“My heart goes out to the young man and his fam­ily,” said Su­ber, who is black. “I think the com­mu­nity here just wants some jus­tice over­all.”

Bill Shull, 61, says he wants jus­tice for the Hill fam­ily but doesn’t think it should come be­cause of any in­ter­ven­tion by a na­tional group try­ing to rile ten­sions.

“Let the South han­dle their own prob­lem,” said Shull, who is white, at his down­town hard­ware store. “There’s not go­ing to be any in­sur­rec­tion in New­berry.”

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