April 23 – Legislation that Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto will enact next week aims to create local hate crime laws that expand state law and do not take into account sexual orientation, gender identity, or disabled classes.
“We fight against hatred in our city,” said Dan Gilman, Peduto chief of staff.
State and federal laws already contain specific safeguards against hate crimes. Such crimes in Pennsylvania are charged as ethnic intimidation: crimes “motivated by ill will or hatred of a victim’s race, color, religion, or national origin”.
Whether the ethnic intimidation charge is a misdemeanor or a criminal offense depends on the level of crime that was motivated by the bias.
However, the proposed city-level legislation would go a step further than state law, including actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and disability.
State law limits the teeth the city-level law can have and limits the level of charge to one summary offense – the equivalent of a traffic quote.
“We’d like to do more, but we just can’t,” Gilman said, noting that the legislation is about more than the indictment – it is about showing that hatred against anyone in Pittsburgh will not be tolerated.
“We are making at least one statement that any crime committed against anyone based on their race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression will not be tolerated in the city of Pittsburgh and will include increased punishment,” he said.
The number of hate crimes reported to law enforcement agencies across Pennsylvania increased 35% in 2020 from the previous year. This, according to the Pennsylvania Uniform Crime Report, increased from 80 to 108. Racial or ethnicity-motivated crimes increased 41% from 56 to 79.
In 2019, the last year federal data is available, 7,314 incidents were reported nationwide, according to the FBI, although studies have shown such crimes are likely to be severely underreported. In fact, there are more than 18,000 law enforcement agencies nationwide, and fewer than 16,000 have filed their hate crime statistics.
The story goes on
Of those who submitted data, fewer than 3,000 reported hate crimes in their jurisdiction.
“Some of these reports are likely true zeros, but it’s really unlikely that all of these jurisdictions didn’t commit hate crimes,” Florida State University criminologist Brendan Lantz told CNN last month.
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