As Pennsylvania hate crimes increase, Homeland Security Secretary touts help at summit

  • Julia Zenkevich/WESA

(Pittsburgh) – Speakers at the Eradicated Hate summit, being held this week in Pittsburgh, condemned the recent rise in hate crimes and offered solutions to stop hateful and violent acts before they take place.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, there were 82 hate crimes committed in Pennsylvania in 2020 — double the number from 2019. Roughly 75% of the attacks were motivated by hatred for a particular race, ethnicity, or ancestry.

Nearly three years after a gunman killed 11 worshippers at the Tree of Life synagogue, U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the effects of hate crimes are wide-reaching.

“Of course, there are those who endure the tragedy more acutely than others, those who have lost loved ones. Yet, the hate crime impacts us all, everywhere,” he said in his recorded remarks on Tuesday.

Mayorkas’s own grandfather lost his parents and eight brothers in the Holocaust.

“The everlasting memory of the Holocaust—one of the most vicious crimes against humanity every perpetrated—heightened our awareness and increased our vigilance against any act of hate, what it meant, and where it could lead,” he said. “We understood early on that a hate crime is different than most other crimes. The circle of victims knows no circumference.”

Mayorkas said the summit is part of a commitment to combat hate.

Over the last year, the Federal Emergency Management Agency designated domestic violent extremism as a “national priority area.” Mayorkas said the department spent $77 million on detecting and protecting communities from these types of threats.

FEMA’s nonprofit security grant program also awarded more than $180 million to nonprofit organizations that are at high risk for a terrorist attack. Many recipients were houses of worship.

“The goal is to equip them with security-related capabilities and ensure their members can practice their faith in safety and in peace,” he said.

Mayorkas touted the Biden administration’s national strategy to counter domestic terrorism, and the importance of teaching people how to spot potential hate crimes in their own communities.

“There is a rise in hate in our country and around the world. There is a rise in crimes born of hate. But there is also an increasing drive to action,” he said.

But the American Civil Liberties Union has criticized the administration’s approach. According to the ACLU, the plan expands government authority to monitor local communities and permits profiling on the basis of race, religion, or national origin—strategies which disproportionately target people of color.

“Biden’s strategy fails to address these wrongs, let alone reverse them. A core reason for this failure is that despite lip service to the contrary, it relies too heavily on law enforcement suspicion, investigation, and policing of beliefs rather than actual conduct — violence or attempted violence,” the organization wrote in a statement.

Some local community groups, including Bend the Arc Jewish Action: Pittsburgh, a progressive Jewish social justice group, and Casa San Jose, a Latino advocacy group, condemned Mayorkas’s inclusion at the summit.

The summit continues through Wednesday, October 20.

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