The savage beating suffered by a gay couple in Center City two weeks ago has spurred more than local, national and global headlines in its wake. It boosted conversations about equality. It also has re-ignited a push to update state and local hate crimes laws.
Many were appalled to learn that defendants in the recent Center City case would not be charged with a hate crime, despite reports that they hurled homophobic slurs at the victims during an incident that sent both to the hospital, one with extensive facial wounds. Police can’t make those charges — because those provisions aren’t on the books in Philadelphia or Pennsylvania.
That loophole fueled hundreds of people to gather — in the rain — at the Love over Hate rally in the shadow of City Hall on Thursday afternoon. With the iconic LOVE sculpture behind them, lawmakers, civic leaders, law enforcement and PCHR Chair Thomas H. Earle expressed outrage and steps toward solutions in the aftermath of the beating.
“I’m trying not just to be pissed,” state Rep. Brian Sims (D-Philadelphia) told the crowd. “I’m trying to be resolute. Not just to be angry, but to be empowered.”
The state has been without LGBT protections in its hate crimes laws since 2008, when the state Supreme Court bounced that part of the law enacted in 2002 on a technicality over how it came to be.
State Sen. Jim Ferlo (D-Allegheny) has been advancing bills to correct that, hoping to persuade colleagues to amend the state’s hate crimes laws. In his most recent version, Ferlo was joined by Philadelphia colleagues such as state Sens. LeAnna Washington, Larry Farnese, Anthony Hardy Williams, Shirley M. Kitchen and Tina Tartaglione.
Earle noted at the rally, people with physical and intellectual disabilities also often terrorized in silence, be it a blind person whose seeing eye dog is deliberately poisoned or someone with an intellectual disability being targeted for assault.
The murder of 21-year-old Christian Massey in Delaware County and the the rape and murder of Christina Sankey are but two widely publicized cases that shook the region and the nation. Many more, Earle and others note, happen every day without the fanfare — or wider protections.
City lawmakers already intend to up the ante.
On Thursday, City Councilwoman Blondell Reyndolds Brown and City Councilman Jim Kenney introduced a bill that would update city ordinances and include stricter penalties for hate crimes fueled by racism and bigotry and that target LGBT or disabled individuals. Support within the chamber has been overwhelming, Reynolds Brown said.
Kenney told the Philadelphia Daily News that, “Unless and until the commonwealth of Pennsylvania extends protections to LGBT Pennsylvanians, then Philadelphia has a responsibility to do whatever is in our power to protect our LGBT folks Right now, they are not protected.”
City Council President Darrell L. Clarke put it even plainer during the LOVE Park rally. “If you can’t figure out a way to conduct yourself in the city of Philadelphia, don’t come here. We will not stand for that.”