D.A. Seth Williams Forms Hate Crimes Task Force In Philly

The announcement follows numerous reports of local and national hate crimes after the election of Donald Trump. But the force won't get any additional funding or staff.

District Attorney Seth Williams | Photo by Matt Rourke/AP

District Attorney Seth Williams | Photo by Matt Rourke/AP

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams says he has formed a six-person Hate Crimes Task Force to “vigorously prosecute” hate crimes in the city.

The creation of the task force follows a series of high-profile incidents in Philadelphia that occurred just days after Donald Trump was elected president, including a racist cyber group chat titled “Mud Men” that was sent to black students at the University of Pennsylvania. The group called for a “daily lynching” and included several Trump references.

That same week, a vandal spray-painted two swastikas on storefront windows in South Philly, and a Drexel professor says she found the words, “It’s our pussy now, bitch” keyed into the side of her car. Local schools found swastikas and anti-gay slurs alongside Trump references written on bathroom walls. Police were investigating the alleged attack of a black female student by a crowd of white men who reportedly shouted “Trump! Trump! Trump!” as they pushed her over. That woman has reportedly asked police to halt the investigation.

In light of the local — and national — reports, Williams, City Solicitor Sozi Pedro Tulante and Police Commissioner Richard Ross issued the following statement on the establishment of the Hate Crimes Task Force:

“Philadelphia is called the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection, and we are, thanks to our many differences, stronger together and benefit every day from our collective diversity.

Today, we remind the men and women of Philadelphia that our offices will continue to prosecute any and all hate crimes to the fullest extent of the law. The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office will continue to work seamlessly with the Philadelphia Police Department, the City of Philadelphia and the community; and the District Attorney has specially assigned a dedicated Assistant District Attorney in each of the six geographic zones that make up the DA’s office to vigorously prosecute any hate crime.

Additionally, during this time of collective unrest, we also remind Philadelphians that violence or damage of property will not be tolerated. As the Mayor expressed recently, regardless of whether these actions are committed in the name of the President-elect or in opposition to him, they have no place in the City of Philadelphia.”

The force will not receive additional funding or staff, however, said Cameron Kline, a spokesman for Williams, who is up for reelection next year. Kline said the six existing assistant district attorneys appointed to the force will “act as point people for any hate crime case” as a way to make sure such cases are “acted on and responded to quickly.” Previously, hate crime cases were assigned to assistant district attorneys depending on case load or availability.

Philadelphia police say they currently investigate all “bias incidents,” or “any incident committed against a person or property which is motivated by malicious intention because of a person’s actual or perceived race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, gender, sex or sexual orientation.”

But Pennsylvania does not have a specific hate crime statute, meaning the D.A.’s office would instead have to charge individuals with the closest offense, Ethnic Intimidation, under Title 18 § 2710. That legislation covers “malicious intention toward the race, color, religion or national origin of another individual or group of individuals,” and must be filed in connection to another crime.

Members of the LGBTQ community are not covered under such legislation — crimes committed in the state based on someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity cannot be charged as hate crimes, and multiple bills that aim to change this have stalled.

According the FBI’s 2015 Hate Crime Statistics Report, 14 hate crimes were reported by Philadelphia police last year. Six of those incidents were based on race, ethnicity or ancestry, while five were motivated by religion and three by sexual orientation.

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