Ethnic Intimidation Is Illegal In Pennsylvania
Information on Pennsylvania's Hate Crime Law
|The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission is dedicated to eliminating unlawful discrimination, preventing racial tension and promoting inter group harmony. The Commission convenes the Inter-Agency Task Force on Civil Tension, which monitors tension situations in Pennsylvania and assists communities in prevention and response.
Ethnic Intimidation is Illegal In Pennsylvania
In June 1982, the Ethnic Intimidation and Institutional Vandalism Act was signed into law. This Act created two new crimes: Ethnic Intimidation and Institutional Vandalism. This act is commonly referred to as Pennsylvania's "hate crime law."
Pennsylvania considers crime to be more serious when motivated by hatred toward the race, color, religion or national origin of another individual or group of individuals.
When certain crimes are committed and it can be shown that a motive for such crimes was hatred of the race, color, religion or national origin of the victim, the offense of ethnic intimidation can also be charged, subjecting the perpetrator to more severe penalties. In summary, these crimes include, but are not limited to, crimes against persons like harassment, terroristic threats, assault and crimes against property like criminal trespass, criminal mischief and arson.
Vandalism causing damage to a church, synagogue, cemetery, mortuary, memorial to the dead, school, education facility, community center, municipal building, courthouse, juvenile detention center, grounds surrounding such places or personal property located within such places, is an offense now punishable as a felony of the third degree, if the offender knows that the damage will outrage persons who observe it or if the repair, replacement or other costs exceed $5,000. Otherwise, the offense is a second degree misdemeanor.
Any person who is injured or whose property is damaged by either ethnic intimidation or institutional vandalism can sue for damages, including damages for emotional distress, punitive damages and reasonable attorney fees and costs.
|Where can the victim get help in the community?
Some communities have formed a local network of neighbors to assist victims of ethnic intimidation. Human relations and human rights agencies or religious organizations are also helpful.
Is there a statewide effort to combat Ethnic Intimidation?
Yes. In December 1971, the Governor, by Executive Order, created the Governor's Civil Tension Task Force. The original task force has been succeeded by an Inter-Agency Task Force on Civil Tension.
State and federal agency representatives meet monthly, jointly investigate and monitor community tension situations that might involve racial, religious or nationality conflict, implement inter-agency plans to deal with the causes of such tension and assist local police and community agencies in dealing with these problems.
What should I do if I become a victim of Ethnic Intimidation?
Victims should immediately report any and all such activities or crimes to their local police department or the Pennsylvania State Police for investigation and possible prosecution.
Victims may also consider consulting private council for pursuit of civil remedies.
What if I can't identify who committed the crime?
Unfortunately, most incidents are committed around few witnesses or under cover of nightfall. Nevertheless, the victim should report the crime and whatever information is available. Police have the best resources for identifying the offenders and are responsible for making every effort to do so.
How should the police respond?
The initial response of the police to the incident is important in conveying the opposition of the police and local government officials to such illegal activities.
Officers should respond with sensitivity to the victim's needs and be knowledgeable about the special provisions of this legislation. The police must respond promptly with a full professional investigation. The officers should question witnesses seeking information regarding whether the person responsible for committing the crime was motivated by hatred of the victim or institution because of race, color, religion or national origin.
Law also requires police departments to report ethnic intimidation incidents to the State Police on a monthly basis.
What should I do if the police do not bring charges?
If the person or persons who committed the crime can be identified but the police have not charged the individual, the victim may file a private criminal complaint with the local District Justice, who will then contact the District Attorney's office to determine whether it will prosecute the case.
If that office decides not to proceed, the victim has a right to appeal to the county's court of Common Pleas. In Philadelphia, private criminal complaints should be filed directly with the District Attorney's Office.
What if I have been injured or my property damaged?
A victim who incurs injury to his or her person or suffers damage to property as a result of an act of either ethnic intimidation or institutional vandalism has "a right of action against the suspect for injunction, damages or other appropriate civil or equitable relief." A victim may seek recovery for general and special damages including emotional distress, punitive damages and reasonable attorney fees and costs.
A victim may also ask that the suspect cease the activities considered to be ethnic intimidation or institutional vandalism. A civil complaint may be filed whether or not there has been criminal prosecution.
What other remedies are available?
There are additional state and federal laws that may be used to prosecute offenders. Additionally, the civil remedies under Ethnic Intimidation and Institutional Vandalism may not be the only remedies available to victims.
A victim should consult an attorney to review these rights and remedies. If a victim does not have an attorney, the county bar association may help find one.
For Further Information Contact:
Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission
Office of Attorney General
Civil Rights Enforcement Section
Pennsylvania State Police
Heritage Affairs Office