More than a week after a gunman in Atlanta killed eight people, six of them Asian-American women, Democrats in the state House and Senate rallied Wednesday in support of Pennsylvania’s Asian-American residents, and called for action on a long-sought package of legislation aimed at fighting hate crimes in the state.
“Asians are asking who’s next,” Rep. Patty Kim, a Dauphin County Democrat, and one of two Asian-Americans in the Legislature, asked. The activist group Stop AAPI Hate has documented at least 3,795 incidents of anti-Asian bias between March 2020 and the end of last month, the Washington Post reported.
On Monday, the nation got an answer with news that 10 people were gunned down in a Colorado grocery store. While authorities have not disclosed a motive, according to CNN, the lawmakers nonetheless decried the violence.
“It’s a burden we are carrying and it’s heavy,” Kim continued. “We are passing the baton of hate from one group to the next — together we can push back.”
Even before the Atlanta shootings, “racism and violence against members of the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community were all too common,” Rep. Napoleon Nelson, D-Montgomery, said in remarks prepared for delivery. “These acts of hate, violence and harassment are unacceptable. Inaction in response to this mayhem is also unacceptable.”
State Sen. Art Haywood, D-Philadelphia, summed the thoughts of his colleagues in a sentence: “We all belong here.”
Rep. Dan Frankel, a Pittsburgh Democrat whose district includes the Tree of Life Synagogue, where 11 worshippers were murdered in 2018 in the worst incident of anti-Semitic violence in recent memory, touted a package of anti-hate crimes legislation that he has been pushing since 2019.
“Pennsylvania’s hate crimes laws are decades out of state, and insufficient to stand against white supremacy,” said Frankel, who’s currently seeking co-sponsors for his three-bill package, and has not yet reintroduced them in this year’s legislative session.
Jason Gottesman, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre, told the Capital-Star that Frankel’s proposals would be put through the usual committee process when they are reintroduced and “if they advance will be discussed by the caucus before any potential floor vote.
Pennsylvania lawmakers last approved an update to the state’s hate crimes laws in 2002, expanding its ethnic intimidation statute to include LGBTQ residents. The bipartisan package, sponsored by former Sen. Allen Kukovich, D-Westmoreland, with the support of ex-GOP Sens. Charlie Dent, R-Lehigh, and Joe Conti, R-Bucks, was struck down by the state Commonwealth Court in 2007.
The appellate court ruled that the Legislature had improperly included the language into an unrelated agricultural terrorism bill. The state Supreme Court upheld the ruling the following year, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported in a 2018 story examining the slow progress protections for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians.