State Rep. Dan Frankel, a Jewish lawmaker from Squirrel Hill, is making a renewed push for improved hate crime legislation after another state representative was targeted with anti-Semitic literature and Pennsylvania’s second lady, Gisele Barreto Fetterman, was called a racial slur while shopping.
“Hateful actions continue to be perpetrated against our neighbors simply because of who they are,” Frankel said. “We know that these types of interactions are increasing, and it is time for our legislature to take action. We cannot legislate what is in people’s hearts, but we can send a loud message that Pennsylvania stands together against hate and set an example as elected leaders by quickly moving this legislation forward.”
Members of the Coalition Against Hate — a broad group that include legislators, the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition, Arab-Americans and Sikhs, an LGBT center in Reading, and the Pennsylvania Youth Congress, among others — backed Frankel’s call for action. The Anti-Defamation League also supports the proposed bipartisan measures, and officials from the group spoke at a legislative session recently in support of stronger hate crime laws, according to a spokesperson.
One measure, House Bill 213, would “step up civil and criminal penalties on those who target individuals or groups because of their race, color, religion, national origin, actual or perceived ancestry, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, gender or gender identity,” according to the House Democratic Caucus.
A measure in the state Senate, Bill 946, would give Pennsylvania’s attorney general the power to track hate group activity across the state in an information database system, allowing for what some say is better protection of constituents, the marginalized, and other communities that are often the primary targets of hate. The information in the database only would be accessible to law enforcement agencies across the state, to better inform them of the hate group activity in their region, officials said.
“At a time when passions are high, we must remember that despite our differences, we are all people,” said Frankel, in a prepared statement. “It is time for us to stand up to hate and send a message that hate has no place in Pennsylvania.”
Here in Allegheny County, the renewed call to strengthen hate crimes legislation received backing from the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, which invoked the Oct. 27, 2018, synagogue shooting as evidence of rising bigotry.
“As we approach the second-year mark of the attack on the three congregations at the Tree of Life building, it is a sober reminder of the hatred that exists and the necessity to create laws that protect the most vulnerable communities,” Laura Cherner, director of the Federation’s Community Relations Council, told the Chronicle. “The proposed legislation addresses gaps in our existing laws and offers a multi-pronged approach to protect vulnerable communities, deter potential perpetrators, and support the ability of law enforcement to identify a hate crime when it occurs. The Jewish community in Pittsburgh knows all too well the devastation that can occur as a result of hate-fueled violence. We encourage our law makers to act swiftly and decisively to fight hate crime.”
Earlier this month, news outlets widely reported an incident involving an angry woman calling Fetterman a racial slur in public. In a second incident, anti-Semitic literature was left at the office of state Rep. Aaron Kaufer. PJC
Justin Vellucci is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.