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Charleston City Hall, at 80 Broad St. downtown. File/Leroy Burnell/Staff

This week, Charleston City Council did something no other government in South Carolina has been able — or willing — to do: Pass a hate crime law.

No one said much about it, and the ordinance didn’t get nearly as much attention as the plastic bag ban, but it was just as significant.

City police now have the authority to charge people who intimidate, harass or attack others because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or national origin.

Due to the limitations of municipal ordinances, the penalty is capped at 30 days in jail and a $500 fine (which jumps to $1,087 when the state tacks on its taxes). But the fine isn’t what’s important here; it’s the statement the law makes.

The city has declared discrimination an indefensible offense, that there aren’t two equal sides in this debate.

Police Chief Luther Reynolds says this also will enable the city to more accurately report these crimes to the FBI, which maintains those statistics. For some reason, hate crimes were up 17 percent last year. Seems some people have become inspired to display their most despicable thoughts, emboldened to bully.

And there’s nothing American or great about that.

Once again, Charleston has shown itself to be a bold leader in South Carolina.

The state should now follow suit. South Carolina is one of five states that doesn’t have a hate crime law, which is either ridiculous or unsurprising — or both.

The others, for comparison, are Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana and Wyoming. Georgia had a hate crime law, but to pass the state’s Legislature it had to be watered down so much that its Supreme Court threw it out nearly 15 years ago.

Charleston state Rep. Wendell Gilliard has been trying to pass a South Carolina hate crime law since 2015, before Dylann Roof committed the mother of all hate crimes here in June of that year.

So far, Gilliard hasn’t had much luck.

“I first introduced this after researching homelessness, but then there were all these things happening to young black men, and all this anti-Semitic rhetoric,” he says. “All those things moved me to try and make a change. We should know better just by virtue of our history.”

Gilliard has already pre-filed a bill for the 2019 General Assembly, and it has bite. If a hate crime is committed during the commission of a felony, his legislation says anyone convicted would be fined between $2,000 and $10,000 and face at least two years in prison, with the possibility of 15 years.

Yeah, he’s not playing.

The city’s new hate crime law should help his bill’s prospects, Gilliard says. And he hopes city officials — who passed the local ordinance unanimously — will help him lobby other lawmakers. Good idea.

Charleston’s hate crime ordinance comes after a couple of disturbing events this year. In August, a man attacked a transgender woman in a parking garage, and in September someone threw bricks through a thrift store operated by We Are Family, which caters to the LGBTQ community.

It’s unclear exactly what threat these folks pose to other people, but there’s no accounting for irrational fear, bigotry or blind stupidity.

Of course, there are federal hate crime statutes that can be used to punish the most heinous crimes. As Mayor John Tecklenburg pointed out at a recent City Council meeting, the feds can handle Emanuel and the Pittsburgh massacre.

But a local ordinance can stop harassment and intimidation, and “we won’t tolerate or accept hate even at those levels,” Tecklenburg said. “That’s why I feel like this ordinance is important for our city.”

The mayor is absolutely correct. There really should be no debate about this. Just because someone is different, it doesn’t mean they are bad. And that is something residents of the most mannerly city in the country for umpteen years in a row shouldn’t have to be told.

Gilliard says the only way to curb this sort of behavior is more diversity — in government, in business, in politics. That should be a universal sentiment.

So perhaps this year, given the general incivility in the world, the Legislature will get on board with Gilliard’s legislation.

Charleston has set a good example to follow.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com.