A statement from the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office said that assaults on individuals based on sexual orientation, or “gay bashing” is still not classified as a hate crime in Pennsylvania under the hate crimes law. This came in response to outcry over the beating of a gay couple on Thursday night which was publicized heavily on social media in attempts to identify the people responsible for the assault. Several of those people caught on camera did, as a result of that pressure, eventually turn themselves in for questioning. The Philadelphia police department has yet to issue any warrants or make any arrests in the case.
According to initial witness reports, the two men were walking together on the street close to the intersection of Chancellor and 16th were approached and asked if they were a couple. When they replied in the affirmative, the group of men proceeded to attack them. They were thrown to the ground and repeatedly punched and kicked by multiple attackers, their only apparent offense the fact that they were gay. The group is reported to have been hurling gay slurs and insults as they were assaulting the men. One of the victims was left with his jaw wired up and a fractured eye socket. Pictures appeared on Twitter and Facebook among other social networking sites soon after, asking for help from anyone who recognized the people in the images. The posts spread like wildfire, being re-tweeted and shared in the hope of catching the people who were responsible.
Though many people have come forward as a result and turned themselves in to be questioned, nobody has been arrested yet. One of the men identified as having been involved was an assistant coach at a local Catholic high school, and reports are that the man in questioned has resigned from that position. The Archbishop of Philadelphia came out with a statement against the beatings as being contrary to the fundamental beliefs of their faith.
One of the things arising from the statements given by those being questioned is the accusation that the men instigated the altercation, and were to blame for what happened. This account varies greatly from the ones given by witnesses originally interviewed. Many, including Philadelphia Councilman Jim Kenney, have expressed serious doubt about the veracity of the accounts blaming the apparent victims. In light of the reports from the Philadelphia District Attorney that Pennsylvania hate crimes law does not provide protection to victims of gay bashing, Kenney has sent a request for an investigation by federal authorities under the National Hate Crimes Prevention Act. His statements about the incident made it clear that he was dubious about reports claiming “two men set out to attack 15 people,” and that the things which were said during the beating made it clear that this was a hate crime. Federal authorities acknowledged receipt of the request, and are awaiting information from the local investigation before committing to any action in the incident.
As the investigation continues, the social media campaign in combination with the possible federal involvement have made sure that there is a national audience for those conducting it. Activists in Philadelphia and beyond are already gearing up for lobbying efforts to change the current statutes. Many across the state were woken up to a rude truth to find out that they were still not protected by the current hate crime legislation against gay bashing and harassment. It is an assumption which many in the LGBT community still erroneously make in more states than just Pennsylvania.
By Jim Malone