A Black-owned restaurant that’s been open less than three weeks on Daufuskie Island was vandalized and the owner threatened Tuesday evening, according to the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office.
Police said if found to be a hate crime, the case will be referred to the FBI. South Carolina does not have its own hate crime law.
The owner of Geneva’s Joint, which was previously Lucy Bell’s Cafe, told police she was serving her last customer around 5 p.m. when four men came to the restaurant. She told the men to come in because “she will always help feed someone, even if she is about to close,” police said in a report.
The men ranged in age from 27 to 35. One asked, “Is this place a colored-owned restaurant,” according to the report.
When the restaurant owner asked for clarification, she said the man raised his voice, cursed, repeated himself using a racial slur and smashed the screen on the computer at the register. The men then began vandalizing the business and throwing food around.
The owner ran out a back door and called police. She said she did not recognize them.
When she returned, she found the door frame had been ripped away from the wall. Food and garbage were thrown around the restaurant, and the register was damaged.
Maj. Angela Viens, a spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Office, said police still are looking for the men. They could face malicious injury to property charges.
One of the men was described as being between 5 feet 8 inches and 5 feet 10 inches tall, weighing approximately 175 pounds. The man has a mullet hairstyle, a tattoo on his left bicep of a rose and cross and another of a dog, which may be a bulldog, on his calf.
A golf cart believed to have been stolen from a rental business on the island and used by the men was found abandoned at Daufuskie General Store about 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, police said.
The restaurant owner, contacted Wednesday evening by the Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette, did not want to comment. She is not being named for her safety.
Community support shown
The pastor of First Union African Baptist Church on Daufuskie posted about the incident on his church’s Facebook page.
“None of us can fathom what happened on Tuesday evening. That type of evil, racist hatred was inconceivable to us here,” wrote Pastor Aaron Crosby. “Sure, we knew that this sort of thing happened in other parts of the nation, but never here on our beautiful island, with our tightly knit community. It never occurred to us that four men with evil intent would get in a boat and bring their hatred to us.”
He continued, offering the community’s support:
“You are our family, and we won’t allow you to fail,” Crosby wrote. “Take the time that you need to get your head and heart right, knowing that we’re here for you now and will be here when you are ready to get back up.”
Daufuskie Island residents have rallied behind Geneva’s Joint to help clean it up, said Debra Smith who has lived on the island for 12 years. The restaurant, which was “flooded with people showing support,” was back open for business Thursday.
“By 7:30 p.m., (Wednesday) her place was packed with golf carts and everyone pitched in to fix the place up,” Smith said. “There’s a collective sense of horror on the island that this could happen to someone.”
Geneva’s Joint opened July 16 at 111 Benjies Road. The restaurant specializes in local seafood dishes and burgers.
SC has no hate crime law
South Carolina does not currently have a hate crimes law. A bill that would provide enhanced penalties for certain violent crimes committed against someone based on their age, political opinion, race, color, religion, sexual orientation, gender, national origin or physical or mental disability failed to pass during the last legislative session.
There were a total of 110 hate crimes reported in 2020 in South Carolina, according to data from the Department of Justice. A little over half of the incidents were racially charged.