Joshua Esskew, 19, was at a local convenience store on April 9th in Rock Hill, South Carolina when he heard a gay slur directed at him. There was an argument between Esskew and the man believed to have made the comment before he was struck in the head with a beer bottle. Shortly after Esskew was hit, four other men joined in the attack, beating him severely.
Released video surveillance at the convenience store led to the arrest of five suspects. Each has been charged with assault and battery, carrying the possible prison sentence of up to twenty years. The FBI is investigating this as a hate crime.
U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles said, “The decision whether to file a hate crime charge will be made after a full, fair review of the evidence, and in consideration of the state charges.”
Because this conflict arose from the verbal altercation in the wee hours of the morning, ignited by a gay slur, it is unlikely this case can be overlooked as a hate crime. Without the initial homophobic comment directed toward Esskew, a conflict would have been avoided, following which he was struck in the head with a bottle. That attack alone could’ve proven deadly.
The tips that came in as a result of the released video footage are a testament to the intolerance of hateful behavior by the community. Not only were folks willing to put their voices out there to help, but their tips also led to the arrest of the five suspects.
South Carolina does not currently have a hate crime statute, so the hate crime investigation is conducted on a federal level. Perhaps this is an opportunity for their community to begin that conversation with their state officials.
Regardless as to whether the hate crime investigation is done at the federal level or not, the evidence points to a gay teen suffering a brutal gang beating in the middle of the night because some young men decided to harass him based solely on his assumed orientation. There is something eerily Laramie about this case. Would it be clearer if Esskew had died? It is a hate crime. Period. And it should be charged as one.
What do you think? Do you think the five young men should be charged with a hate crime?
Photo By: Sylvar