Editorial: Decency Matters08/16/2022 03:45PM ● By Richard Gaw
Once confined to the
smoldering catacombs of the state’s secret hiding places, the silent fringe dwellers are no longer silent in our commonwealth.
In its recent “Year in Hate and Extremism” report, the Southern Poverty Law Center said that as many as 40 separate hate groups are active in Pennsylvania, carrying names like the American Defense Skinheads; the National Justice Party; the Shoebat Foundation; the National Justice Center; and of course, the Proud Boys, whose Pennsylvania headquarters are in Harrisburg.
According to data from the Pennsylvania State Police Uniform Crime Reporting System, hate crimes have increased exponentially in Pennsylvania over the past two years. From 2016 through 2019, the state saw an average of 88 hate crimes annually, and in 2020, incidents of hate crimes rose by 33 percent to 111.
In 2021, there was a 97 percent increase to 219 crimes and in the first quarter of 2022, an additional 64 hate crimes have been reported. There have likely been more, but out of fear of possible retaliation, many victims are reluctant to report the crimes to the police. Further, several of these crimes are not designated as hate crimes by law enforcement, and information from the state’s courts and its hate crime database shows that very few of these cases result in a conviction.
While anti-government extremism, racist conspiracy theories and white nationalist ideology have simmered in both Pennsylvania and in the U.S. over the past century, they now have a seat at both the state and national table. Their presence and their propaganda are now everywhere – at rallies, in social media and almost glorified in the mainstream press, where their names and their actions are sensationalized to the point where they are perceived by an ever-increasing population who believe that they are our nation’s new anti-heroes.
And what has our state government done to combat this surging army of hatred? They threw nearly $10 million at it in an effort to make it go away.
In January, the State of Pennsylvania awarded $4.5 million in new funding for the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency’s (PCCD) Non-Profit Security Grant Program that provides funding to churches, synagogues, temples, mosques and other non-profit organizations who face hate crimes.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf followed up in April by announcing the state was providing an additional $5.23 million in funding awards to 120 churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, and other nonprofit organizations who serve diverse communities throughout the state.
The doling out of this money, while exemplary, does not alone hold back the forces that have given birth to a dystopian nightmare, one that manipulates the power of the First Amendment as a protective fortress. Add to this the fact that many law enforcement agencies are not fully trained to recognize, investigate or penalize hate crimes, and many simply do not collect or report hate crime data to the FBI.
While our judicial systems and law enforcement agencies continue to fumble with finding unified and firm recourse to shut down the number of hate groups and the crimes they commit, there is one saving grace that will never be legislated.
It is the power of communities to galvanize. At rallies and at meeting tables and coffee shops and living rooms all over Chester County, citizen brigades have joined hands with local organizations to confront both hatred and apathy. They have knocked on doors, made phone calls, pounded keyboards and met with churches, schools, clubs, civic groups and members of law enforcement. They have constructed walls of protective voices around victims, gathered ideas and created diverse coalitions.
In the struggle for unity, every action of hatred deserves a reaction. By their actions, those in our community and beyond who confront organized bias have demonstrated that decency is also protected by the First Amendment.
Chester County Community Foundation
Southern Poverty Law Center
Hate Crimes Prevention