Frankel, Wheatley, colleagues, faith leaders call for action on Pa. hate-crimes legislation

PITTSBURGH, Aug. 21 – House Democratic Caucus Chairman Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny, colleagues and faith leaders held a news conference today at Freedom Corner to discuss the aftermath of the Charlottesville, Va., domestic terror attack and to call for action on hate-crimes legislation in Pennsylvania (H.B. 505/S.B. 96).

"The hatred and ugliness displayed by white supremacist groups in Charlottesville, which culminated in murder, has been followed by a lack of leadership from the White House. So it is more important than ever that state and local leaders and all people of good will do what we can. In Pennsylvania, one of the the most important things we can do is to restore several protections that were only struck from our hate-crimes law on a technicality," Frankel said.

"These protections were added in 2002 on a bipartisan basis and were struck from the hate-crime law by the state Supreme Court in 2008 not on the merits, but only because of the state Constitution's single-subject rule for bills. The state House and Senate should vote on legislation that would restore the inclusion of actual or perceived ancestry, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, and gender or gender identity. The law currently covers hate crimes committed because of the victim's race, color, religion or national origin."

State Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Allegheny, said, "It's fitting that we are at Freedom Corner today, since this has been a rallying point for civil rights in Pittsburgh for so long. What we saw recently in Charlottesville is unfortunately not new at all, but it is a painful reminder that our own hate-crime law currently fails to protect many Pennsylvanians who are victims of hate-motivated attacks. It's past time to fix that."

The legislators were also joined by faith leaders who spoke out against hate and for unity.

Rev. Darlene M. Figgs of the Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network, said, "The heinous and hateful acts in Charlottesville, Virginia remind us of the depth of the racism that continues to plague our nation-- a plague from which no one is immune. We refuse to allow racists and white supremacists to frame our narrative or our place in this country. We will continue to encourage relationship building among all people of good will, and we will work towards the just, inclusive, and tolerant society that we all deserve."

Cindy Shapira, chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, said, "The Jewish people know all too well what can occur when the rancor of Nazis and white supremacists, as well as those who support them, is left unchecked. But we are far from the only community targeted by visceral hate. We stand fiercely against all forms of hate directed toward anyone based on their religion, race, sexual orientation, gender or gender identity."