Polly Sheppard has been on a mission since surviving the 2015 Emmanuel AME church massacre in South Carolina. If the killer spared the retired prison nurse in the hope that she would spread his message of gun-toting white supremacy, though, he must be grievously disappointed.In fact, the indefatigable septuagenarian has been delivering her own messages – and like many nurses, she is a very good communicator.

Former nurse Polly Sheppard addresses the S Carolina senate.In the years following the notorious shooting, Sheppard crisscrossed the country to speak against gun violence. Then, once she accumulated enough speaker fees she poured her earnings into another passion and established her own Scholarship Foundation to support nursing students in Charleston. Now, as the seventh anniversary of the chilling church murders approaches, Sheppard is focusing on another initiative to reduce future bloodshed: this week she sent an eloquent appeal to South Carolina’s senate urging them to finally pass a hate crimes law.

“Being there, laying under the table with this gun to my head couldn’t be anything but hate.”

Like most hate crime laws, the proposed SC bill would add up to five years to prison sentences for any homicide or assault motivated by hatred of the victim’s race, sexual orientation, gender, religion, or disability. Aside from Wyoming, South Carolina is the only state that has failed to pass some form of law against hate crimes, but the current bill has faced a steep uphill battle. At present eight SC senators are determined to see it expire… which is a painful irony as Emmanuel pastor Clementa Pinckney, a victim of the massacre, had been a senator himself.  If the bill ends up on the table as a code blue, though, it won’t be due to inactivity on Sheppard’s part.

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A Lifetime’s Work

In a powerful two-minute video viewed by the senate on April 27, Sheppard addressed the recalcitrant senators. She mused on other ironies, asking some acute questions: “I really can’t understand them standing against a [hate] law, but they can pass a law to kill somebody a firing squad. They can take that to the floor, but they can’t bring the hate crime law to the floor… What’s the problem?” Sheppard also wondered “why South Carolina has to be the last, almost the last to get a hate crime law?  Because we didn’t have it. We had to go to the federal government for (the AME killer) to be charged with a hate crime. It makes no sense.”

Sheppard reminded her audience: “Eight members of the South Carolina Senate are giving a safe haven to hate. Every time you look at senator Pinckney’s photograph, you should be reminded that hate killed him.”

Koren Thomas
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