By Brian E. Muhammad, Special to NNPA from the Final Call –
COLUMBIA, S.C. (NNPA) - A town hall meeting, a march and a rally has revealed a community perplexed about the handling of the murder and dragging of Anthony Hill in Newberry, S.C.
The 32-year-old husband and father of two was shot to death and tied to the back of a pickup truck and dragged 11 miles on a Newberry road. Gregory Collins, a White male and reported workplace friend of Hill, is accused of the killing and is in custody for the gruesome crime.
There has been racially-charged conflict between some members the community, law enforcement and activists in the otherwise quiet Newberry ever since the incident.
Because of the horrific nature of the crime there are demands from activists and some community members to prosecute the case as a hate crime under recent federal hate crime legislation signed into law by President Barrack Obama.
South Carolina does not have a hate crime law and currently Collins is accused of murder—the highest charge in the state.
In a high energy town hall meeting, called by the Newberry Sherriff Lee Foster, the family of Anthony Hill said June 15 they were “only seeking justice” for the Army veteran and were willing to work with anyone seeking the same. There has been friction between the Sherriff's Department over involvement of “outside” groups like the New Black Panther Party, which became involved in the case within a week of the June 2 murder.
In a well attended July 17 rally on the steps of the Newberry courthouse, New Black Panther Party chairman Malik Zulu Shabazz described the killing as a “modern day lynching” and the case “an outrage,” while calling for Mr. Collins to be tried in federal court for hate crime violations.
According to Mr. Shabazz, Confederate paraphernalia was found in Collins' trailer home and White supremacy insignia is tattooed on Collins' body.
According to authorities, they are investigating the killing and are yet to decide whether to charge Collins with a hate crime. The U.S. Attorney for South Carolina, William Nettles, said his investigation would dictate when he made the decision.
“He (Mr. Collins) has been charged which means that a magistrate has found probable cause to issue a murder warrant,” said Jerry Peace, a state solicitor for South Carolina, who covers Newberry and three other counties. Mr. Peace told The Final Call July 22 that he is waiting for the investigative report to determine what the next step should be concerning Mr. Collins' possible indictment.
According to Anthony Hill's widow, the authorities have been cagey with information about the case and ongoing investigations.
“I am looking mostly for the truth of what is going on, what happened that night. They say ‘no comments.' We call them, they don't call us,” complained Aurea Hill, the wife of the victim.
“I'm the wife, at least I should know a little bit of what's going on.”
Hill told The Final Call that authorities don't give her updates on the investigation. Hill said except Sherriff Foster, none of the people on the panel at the town hall meeting ever reached out to her. The other panelists were two representatives from the Department of Justice, the state solicitor and NAACP state representative Dr. Lonnie Randolph.
The community expressed outrage and questioned, in light of the fact that an 11 mile blood trail led back to the door of Collins' trailer, why does it take so long to get an indictment?
“I am angry about this. He had to hate him in order to do it. What I was told was that White folks will be with you and pretend they your friend and will turn on you, that's the way I was brought up,” said Emma Boston, 69, of Columbia, which is less than an hour away from Newberry.
Said Newberry resident, Johnny Young, “They don't really want you to know and understand what's really going on. Because the more they dig deeper into the process of it, more stuff starts to reveal itself and the sheet is beginning to be pulled off the whole situation. They don't want the Blacks to really see the hate of it because they are striving to say it's really not a hate crime."
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