If ever there was a case that argued for hate crimes laws, it is the horrific gay bashing that occurred in Philadelphia on September 11. The suspects in the case have no known criminal records so will likely get off rather easy for a crime that will likely be treated as simple assault. But at least in suspect Kathryn Knott's case, it may not be hard to detect a motive. Her stream of hate on social media expresses contempt for foreigners, other races, and gay people.
Perhaps most appalling is her apparent disdain for the injured people who came into the emergency room where she worked; she has rightfully been fired from her job. Even taking away the animus she allegedly voiced about anyone not white and straight and privileged, her tweets could serve as the basis for a book, How to Be a Spoiled Brat. I hope the Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane is investigating whether Knott's father, Karl Knott, the police chief of the Philadelphia suburb of Chalfont, really did use his badge to settle scores for her as she bragged on Twitter. If nothing else, her father is guilty of terrible parenting to have raised a kid so callous.
Yes, any assault of this severity is terrible, but when it is motivated solely because of someone's status it becomes especially abhorrent. According to the court documents, as she hit one of the victims in the head, Knott allegedly called the men "faggots." A hate crimes enhancement would change this crime from a felony of the second degree to a felony of the first degree, which could add years to a sentence that in all probability will be too light.
Crimes like this do not happen in a vacuum. The Catholic Church in Philadelphia pretended to be shocked that some of its former students would participate in such an attack. Given the lesson they teach that gays are sub-human, can they really be surprised that this is the result? Can Philadelphia's Archbishop Charles Chaput not realize that when he devalues the lives of gay people by opposing the addition of LGBT protections to hate crimes laws that his students take this as a lesson? The omission spoke volumes when Chaput issued a comment on the crime, he not only deflected all responsibility, but didn't acknowledge why them men were attacked or even express any concern for or wish a speedy recovery to the victims. I doubt there is much value in a prayer from a man so lacking in "Christian" love, but he could have at least pledged to do so. This past week, ministers like Mike Huckabee spewed hate and intolerance at the ironically named "Value Voters Summit," put on by the also ironically named "Family Research Council." Is it really so surprising to religious leaders when gullible young people take the words of hate and translate them into hate crimes?
Further evidence of the dangers of spewing hate from the pulpit came in Minneapolis last weekend when a man shouting Bible verses opened fire in a gay bar. Luckily, the weapon involved was only a BB gun and no one was seriously injured.
Hate crimes laws are needed as long as there are people actively encouraging hate against minorities. No one is preaching, "Hey, go out and mug someone at random!" so as to encourage other assaults. Tragically, those attacks still happen, but no one is egging them on.But there is hope. This week's avalanche of states joining those with marriage equality has even the Mormon Church sounded conciliatory in its acceptance gay marriage in Utah. The church issued a statement that read in part:
"...respectful coexistence is possible with those with differing values. As far as the civil law is concerned, the courts have spoken. Church leaders will continue to encourage our people to be persons of good will toward all, rejecting persecution of any kind based on race, ethnicity, religious belief or non-belief, and differences in sexual orientation."
And there is yet more hope with the Catholic Church making a huge leap forward in acceptance of LGBT people and gay couples.
Brian Sims, the first openly gay person to serve in the Pennsylvania House, said that even though some in Harrisburg may oppose all hate crimes laws, they know how unpopular it would be to try to repeal the existing statutes that protect people on the basis of race, color, religion or national origin. They just don't want to protect the one group that may need it the most.
Almost exactly a year ago, just before I spoke at my old high school at the opposite end of Pennsylvania, a fellow alum of that school had been beaten along with his boyfriend after they left a gay bar in Pittsburgh. Their injuries add more weight to the argument for a law that when so many other persecuted groups are protected, people who are gay, lesbian, and transgender should be as well.
Sims is co-sponsoring legislation to add LGBT protections to the Pennsylvania hate crimes law. This Philadelphia crime prompted State Senator Jim Ferlo, (D-Highland Park) to not only back the law, but to acknowledge that he is gay. And the bill may pass. The Pennsylvania House Judiciary committee overwhelming voted to send a more inclusive hate-crimes bill to the full House for a vote.
Until those who are different are targeted in equal numbers with those who are not, it is necessary to give them unequal protection. Fixing the law in Pennsylvania (and other states) would be a good start.
Walter G. Meyer, is the author of the novel Rounding Third, which deals with gay teens being bullied; he speaks around the country about bullying and LGBT inclusion.