Hate is on the Rise and the Pennsylvania Legislature Must Act

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James Elam IV

By James Elam, IV and Shoshana Schiller

On June 7, 1998, three men — two of them avowed white supremacists — lynched James Byrd, Jr., a Black man, in Jasper, Texas. After beating him, they brutally and barbarically killed James by dragging him 3½ miles behind their truck before dropping his body in front of an African American church.

Just a few months later, in October 1998, Matthew Shepard, a gay college student, was beaten, tortured and left to die tied to a barbed-wire fence. The year before James and Matthew were murdered, legislation to expand and strengthen the existing federal hate crimes law was proposed in Congress but did not pass.


However, the murders of James and Matthew, motivated by hatred, led to the eventual passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act almost 12 years later. The act extended existing law to include hate crimes based on gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability, and strengthened the existing federal hate crimes law.

Shoshana Schiller

Since the passage of the HCPA at the federal level, Pennsylvania inexplicably has not enacted a comprehensive hate crimes law that encompasses crimes based on sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or disability, despite efforts to do so.

While a more comprehensive hate crimes law was proposed in 2019 by state Rep. Dan Frankel and state Sen. Larry Farnese, the bills were never taken up for a vote. In that same time, the number of reported hate crimes in Pennsylvania rose dramatically, up 98% from 2019 to 2020. And, as documented by the Anti-Defamation League, in 2021 Pennsylvania had the highest incidents of white supremacist propaganda distribution of any state in the country, by a wide margin.

Across the country, in 2020, the number of hate crime murders was higher than it has been since before the HCPA was signed into law. Hate crimes against Black people rose more than 43% between 2019 and 2020 and against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders 61%. Antisemitic incidents rose to an all-time high in 2021, a 34% increase over 2020. Hate crimes based on gender identity rose 18% in 2019 and another 19% in 2020. In Wyoming, where Shepard was murdered, hate crimes were up 260% between 2019 and 2020.

We know that hate is rarely confined to just one group. The tragic racially motivated killing of innocent shoppers in Buffalo was foretold by a writing that attacked both Black people and Jews. White supremacists openly strike out not only against people of color but also against members of the gender-queer community.

It is clear, now more than ever, that it is time to address Pennsylvania’s weak laws against hate. This is not a discussion of policy but of basic humanity. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has a motto: Virtue, Liberty and Independence. Those words ring hollow if many of our fellow residents live in constant fear of the growing problem of hate crimes being committed against them in an environment where their chosen government refuses to enact laws to protect their lives.

We can do better, we should do better and we must do better to push back against the growing threat of white supremacy and hatred. The Pennsylvania Legislature must act. JE

James Elam, IV and Shoshana Schiller are co-chairs of the Black-Jewish Alliance of the ADL.  Elam is the managing partner of Elamental, a multidisciplinary agency focusing on technology, media, sports and social action. Schiller is an environmental attorney in the Philadelphia area.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Why isn’t it mentioned that, for decades now, Daryl Metcalfe has refused to allow any legislation mentioning LGBT citizens out of committee because he insists on forcing his own religious beliefs, which insist on hatred and violence against sexual minorities?

  2. A law does not stop a criminal. Punishment will stop a criminal for a period of time, An individual must learn how and be prepared to protect and defend his/her self.

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