Rise in hate crimes leads to warning from state police, lawmakers

Lawmakers, PSP discuss increase in incidents and urge public action

PITTSBURGH, April 2 – Alarmed by disturbing warnings that racist attacks on Asian Americans are increasing in Pennsylvania and across America during the coronavirus crisis, a group of Pennsylvania lawmakers, the Pennsylvania State Police and other stakeholders today held a news conference to alert the public and to urge vigilance against this rising evil.

“We are hearing, both locally and as part of a nationwide problem, that our Asian American communities are being attacked and maligned as somehow responsible for the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny. “While ridiculous on its face, this line of thinking is dangerous, and we unfortunately know very well in my district what can happen when a community is made to be a scapegoat for society’s problems. We are here today to say to the Asian communities throughout Pennsylvania: ‘We are taking this seriously, and we have your back.’”

“Crimes against anyone based in their race, creed, gender, country of origin or sexual orientation are absolutely unacceptable,” said Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa Jr., D-Allegheny. “There is no place for discrimination in Pennsylvania at any time. But as we are in the midst of a public health crisis, we need now more than ever to work together and support each other as best we can.”

In addition to warnings from the Pennsylvania State Police, earlier this week the FBI warned that hate crime incidents against Asian Americans likely will surge across the United States, based on the assumption that a portion of the US public will mistakenly associate COVID-19 with China and Asian American populations.

For many in the Asian American community, the threat is very real – and personal.

"There are those who still believe that Asian Americans don't face discrimination or racism in this country. The outbreak of Covid-19 reminds us that that is a false assumption,” said Marian Lien, president of OCA-Asian Pacific American Advocates, Pittsburgh chapter. “This pandemic has unleashed a torrent of hate and violence by bigots who blame Asian Americans for the global pandemic -- we have been intimidated, spit on, physically attacked. Hundreds of people have come forward, but we know hundreds more go unreported.”

“It truly saddens me to hear that the Asian American community has been the target of such painful attacks. I would like to urge members of the Asian American community and people of the commonwealth to report these crimes so they can be addressed,” said Rep. Patty Kim, D-Dauphin. “Reporting would allow us to direct resources, education and better understand what's going on before the situation gets worse. Even though we need to keep a safe distance from each other, it’s incredibly important that we stand with the community and show our support.”

The Heritage Affairs Section of the Pennsylvania State Police is dedicated to the response and investigation of hate/bias crimes and incidents. If people feel they are a victim of a hate/bias crime or incident, they should report it immediately by calling 911 or their local police department. For non-emergencies, they can also send tips to PA Crime Stoppers by calling 1-800-4PA-Tips (1-800-472-8477), or via email at tips@pa.gov. Dispatchers and troopers have the capability to communicate in a multitude of languages, 24-hours a day, 7 days a week.

The increase in incidents has also inspired a community statement pledging support for the state’s Asian American communities organized by the Anti-Defamation League in Philadelphia, which has gathered support from more than 40 community organizations.

State Sen. Larry Farnese, D-Philadelphia, said his office has received numerous calls from individuals regarding incidents of racism since the COVID-19 crisis began – in fact, some of the first calls to his office during the evolving crisis were regarding racially motivated incidents in his and the broader Philadelphia community.

“Hate doesn’t take a pause during COVID-19 and neither will we in our fight to eradicate it,” Farnese said.

To address hate crimes and racism in Pennsylvania, earlier this year legislators partnered with religious and community organizations to create the Coalition Against Hate, a broad, diverse group that aims to increase awareness of and promote action on legislation addressing the issue. As time and history have shown, racism and hate remain the enemy of peace and progress.

“Hate is the enemy of humanity,” said state Rep. Ed Gainey, D-Allegheny, and a member of the coalition. “We must work together collectively to overcome this coronavirus. We must never tolerate the evil of hate but do everything we can to eliminate it.”

Earlier this year the legislators moved to introduce a comprehensive legislative package to address hate crimes in Pennsylvania, and to bring the state’s laws into the modern era, extend protections to threatened communities, and give law enforcement the tools it needs to prevent and address hate crimes across the commonwealth.

Information about the legislation is available at http://www.PaAgainstHate.com.