South Carolina officials have asked a judge to force a white couple to move out of their home after they reportedly burned a cross near the residence of their Black Army veteran neighbours.
Special prosecutor James Battle argued in a motion filed on 26 January that Conway residents Worden Butler and Alexis Hartnett “harassed, assaulted, and threatened their neighbours and people in the public areas surrounding their home.”
Fifteenth Circuit Solicitor Jimmy Richardson has requested a temporary injunction, asking the court to declare the suspects’ home a public nuisance.
Mr Butler, 28, and Ms Hartnett, 27, were arrested on state charges of harassment and later released on bond after their retired neighbours, Monica and Shawn Williams, recorded video of the cross being burned near their yard fence on Thanksgiving weekend.
The Williams had been celebrating the holidays and had family over when the attack unfolded.
According to a police report, Ms Harett allegedly directed a racist slur at the Williams while being interviewed by police.
Mr Butler also allegedly shared a picture of the victims’ mailbox showing their address on Facebook, and wrote he was “summoning the devil’s army and I don’t care if they and I both go down in the same boat,” according to the Horry County Police Department.
Although South Carolina is one of two states in the country that does not impose additional penalties for hate crimes, Mr Richardson has argued that state law allows authorities to shut down public nuisances that are a “continuous breach of the peace.”
If the injunction requested by Mr Richardson is granted, Mr Butler and Ms Hartnett could be removed from the home for up to one year.
“It is a start and it sends a message to not just in Conway or anywhere in the South,” Ms Williams told WFBM. “This behaviour will not be tolerated and everyone has the right to live in peace and harmony with themselves without being targeted because of their skin colour.”
The FBI has launched a separate investigation into the incident.
Mr Butler and Ms Harnett are expected to appear in court in March.
Cross burnings in the US are “symbols of hate” that are “inextricably intertwined with the history of the Ku Klux Klan,” according to a 2003 Supreme Court decision written by the late Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
The justices ruled that the First Amendment allows bans on cross burnings only when they are intended to intimidate because the action “is a particularly virulent form of intimidation.”
Felecia Phillips Ollie DD (h.c.) is the inspiring leader and founder of The Equality Network LLC (TEN). With a background in coaching, travel, and a career in news, Felecia brings a unique perspective to promoting diversity and inclusion. Holding a Bachelor’s Degree in English/Communications, she is passionate about creating a more inclusive future. From graduating from Mississippi Valley State University to leading initiatives like the Washington State Department of Ecology’s Equal Employment Opportunity Program, Felecia is dedicated to making a positive impact. Join her journey on our blog as she shares insights and leads the charge for equity through The Equality Network.