Joe Bubman, center, chats with Lance Walker, left, and Maria Banks, right, after a Uniting to Prevent Targeted Violence meeting in Gettysburg on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2023. (Jeremy Long - WITF)
Meet the Central Pennsylvania ‘Uniters’ taking a stand against hate crimes
Uniting to Prevent Targeted Violence (UPTV) has launched its mission to combat identity-based harm in four south central Pennsylvania counties by pairing groups of community members with social service organizations.
Last month, the FBI released revised statistics that show hate crimes in Pennsylvania more than quadrupled from 2020-2021 and rose about 12% nationally. About six in 10 of reported hate crimes were based on the victim’s race, ethnicity, and/or ancestry, according to the data.
The group of 28 ‘Uniters’ represents a cross-section of backgrounds and ideologies in Pa. Members hope to identify and assist those at risk of committing violent acts – while some also hope to learn and grow from their peers while facing their own struggles.
Lance Walker owns a barbershop in Chambersburg, where he and his customers often talk about subjects people tend to shy away from like politics, race, and religion.
“I’m in my shop a lot, and I thought, ‘You know, it’s time to roll my sleeves up and to do something about it,’” Walker said. “Especially on the racial side of things for me because my wife is white; my children are obviously biracial; and I’m Black. So, it matters and means a lot to me.”
Walker said his Christian faith helps him prioritize the person over their politics, even when he disagrees with their views.
“But a lot of times, I think we dismiss that, and rather than seeing the person, I’m seeing the issue,” he said. “As long as I keep their dignity to the forefront of the conversation, and keep their humanity to the front, then I’m going to treat them the way I have to treat them: With love and with respect and dignity.”
The Department of Homeland Security lists factors that can contribute to targeted violence, including feelings of isolation and alienation, exposure to violent imagery and rhetoric, access to firearms, and mental health problems, among others.
Maria Banks, a truancy coordinator in the Chambersburg School District, joined the group to better understand the kids she works with.
“Our students are telling us that they don’t feel like they belong, frustrated with feeling isolated and misunderstood,” she said. “I would be concerned that those are targeted individuals, and so, I want to know a little bit more about what are the risk factors that caused them to be isolated, that caused them to potentially be targeted.”
Banks plans to work with Mediation Services of Adams County team to serve more at-risk kids across the county.
“I’m concerned about females in particular, who can be targeted for sex trafficking,” she said.
According to the FBI, human trafficking is on the rise in Pa. The Human Trafficking Hotline ranked Pa. 9th among the states with the highest number of human trafficking victims in 2021 – the latest year data is available.
“When we have students who don’t feel heard or valued, that can make them more susceptible to being targeted – especially for sex trafficking,” Banks said.
The group has partnered with mental health professionals in Adams, Dauphin, Franklin, and York counties, with the goal to strengthen their services and combat hate-based violence.
The UPTV program kicked off in February and will run through August 2024.