(WHTM) — Several anti-hate bills passed the Pennsylvania House at the end of October, and lawmakers said they are especially necessary now.
The bill’s sponsors cited a rise in threats to Jewish and Muslim communities because of the war between Israel and Hamas. This also came just after the anniversary of the Tree of Life shooting.
Lawmakers and community members said all this highlights why these bills are necessary.
“We can’t tolerate any kind of hate-based violence in our communities,” Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny County) said.
Frankel was the prime sponsor on two of the three bills focused on hate crimes that passed the House. The other was sponsored by Democrat Napoleon Nelson.
“What we’ve seen is hate-motivated violence against targeted groups. And it’s an epidemic,” Frankel said.
The first bill would expand protections to victims targeted because of gender identity, sexual orientation, age, or disability. Those groups are currently not included in the state’s Ethnic Intimidation Statute.
The second bill would provide law enforcement with training to identify and investigate hate crimes, and the third would require colleges to have an online and anonymous reporting option.
“It’s things like that that make a minority community feel like they’re welcome,” said David Cohen, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Harrisburg.
Cohen said the timing of these bills is significant. They passed days after the anniversary of the Tree of Life massacre, and less than a month after the deadly Hamas attack in Israel.
“Jewish communities [are] feeling very at risk, vulnerable,” he said. “It is actual inhumanity. It is actual hate-driven violence that rocks you to your core.”
Cohen said this also goes beyond the Jewish community.
“The Jewish community feels very strongly that this is about the whole community,” he said. “Bias and bigotry against [a Black person] simply because of the color of [their] skin is no different than bias and bigotry against someone because they are Jewish, because they’re Muslim, because of their Sikh, because they’re Hindu…Hate actually does not discriminate.”
Omar Mussa, a Palestinian-American and organizer of several rallies, said, “We’re seeing hate crimes increase here in Harrisburg.”
In October, police say a man pointed a gun at people rallying in support of Palestinians at the state Capitol and yelled ethnic slurs.
“It’s devastating, right? When you gather in any place, the last thing that you want is to have the ability to be threatened or your life be threatened,” Mussa said in October after the incident happened.
According to FBI data, hate crimes have been on the rise since 2018, so advocates say we need these protections now.
“This is particularly critical right now,” Frankel said. “We need to provide our communities with the tools to protect those vulnerable populations, particularly in a time of heightened insecurity.”
Cohen added, “Acknowledge the damage that hate can do and why you need to stand up a little stronger and a little louder in the face of it.”
Only a handful of Republicans voted with Democrats in the House, so these bills could face an uncertain future in the Republican-controlled Senate. Still, Frankel said he has worked with Senate leaders before, and he hopes they will lend support to this issue.