According to FBI statistics, hate crime incidents have become more frequent and more violent in recent years. The categories most often involved are race/ethnicity/ancestry (60%), religion (19%), and LGBTQ+ (19%). When an act is a crime, it is an offense against the entire community, not just the people directly involved. A hate crime magnifies the harm: the community is hurt not only by the underlying offense, but also by the hateful message the offense was intended to send, and the fear and intimidation it was intended to cause. The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office is committed to working with its partners in local, state and federal law enforcement to combat hate crime.
Primary jurisdiction over most criminal matters in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, including hate crimes, lies with local police departments and county district attorneys. The Attorney General’s Civil Rights Enforcement Section has the authority to seek civil injunctions in appropriate cases. Federal law also provides powerful enforcement tools to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Department of Justice.
What Should You Do If Subjected to Hate?
If it is an emergency, call 9-1-1. If it is not an emergency, you should report a potential hate crime to the local police department nearest you. You should also report hate crimes to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
In consultation with local district attorneys, the Office of Attorney General may obtain civil injunctions or other equitable relief against continuing acts of ethnic intimidation.
Ethnic Intimidation: In Pennsylvania, what is commonly referred to as “hate crime” is covered in Pennsylvania’s Crimes Code as Ethnic Intimidation (18 P.S. § 2710). The crime of Ethnic Intimidation occurs when a person commits other certain crimes and is motivated in whole or in part by hatred toward the race, color, religion, or national origin of another person or group.
For example, the offense of Ethnic Intimidation may be charged when certain underlying offenses are also charged – such as criminal mischief, assault, harassment, terroristic threats, stalking, and homicide – and the underlying offense was in whole or in part motivated by race, color, religion, or national origin.
Institutional Vandalism: The Crimes Code, at 18 P.S. § 3307, makes it a crime to knowingly deface a religious facility (e.g., church, synagogue, mosque, etc.), burial facility (e.g., cemetery), a school, community center, state or local government building, or any personal property in any of these facilities.
Several federal laws, enforced by the FBI and Department of Justice, prohibit hate crime and cover not only the hate crime categories covered by Pennsylvania law – race, color, religion, and national origin – but also gender, familial status, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability.
- In a supermarket parking lot, a man approaches an Asian American couple and spits on them, saying they’re to blame for COVID-19 and they should “go back where they came from.”
- Individual physically attacks a person he believes to be Latino, while yelling derogatory statements regarding Latinos.
- Family regularly receives harassing telephone calls about their religion (such as Judaism) which include threats of physical harm or damage to property or is otherwise intended to annoy, alarm, or harass.
- Individual motivated by racial hatred toward African Americans paints racial slurs on someone’s property.
- After Muslim family moves into a neighborhood, local teenagers follow the women and girls and try to harass, annoy, or alarm them by shouting anti-Islamic statements and yanking at their khimars or hijabs.
The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution generally protects even unpopular ideas from government prohibition. Thus, words or other forms of expression are not unlawful merely because of their hateful content. However, the First Amendment does not protect hate speech in connection with hate crimes or prohibited discrimination because it is being punished not for its expressive content per se, but because of its role in committing the underlying criminal act or discrimination (other examples of unprotected speech include slander and libel, and speech that presents a clear and present danger to safety).
Nothing on this page should be construed as legal advice.