Hate Crime in Philly, or Not

John McClatchy

Harrigan, Knott, Williams (phillymag.com)

In Center City, a gay couple was attacked by a small group late in the evening. Now, three people, two men and a woman, are charged with aggravated assault charges.

It happened on September 11th. The three charged, Philip Williams, Katherine Knott, and Kevin Harrigan, will not be charged with a hate crime, however. The hate crime law in Pennsylvania has no criteria for sexual orientation, which has driven gay rights groups to call on legislators in Harrisburg to make a change.

“I think it [the lack of a law] is a mistake,” Mrs. Harriet Lappas, who teaches AP US Government. “There definitely should be one.”

On October 8, the House Judiciary Committee in Harrisburg voted 19-4 in favor of amending the hate crime law in Pennsylvania to include sexual orientation, along with race, religion, and ethnicity.

One aspect that added another layer to the hate crime was that all three charged were recent alumni from Archbishop Wood High School in Warminster. Due to the school being part of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the Archdiocese and Archbishop Charles Chaput put out statements regarding the attack.

“This afternoon, administrators communicated with the entire Archbishop Wood school community to make it emphatically clear that the school does not, under any circumstances, tolerate or condone the violent and hateful behavior displayed by those who took part in this senseless attack,” the statement from the school read.

“A key part of a Catholic education is forming students to respect the dignity of every human person whether we agree with them or not. What students do with that formation when they enter the adult world determines their own maturity and dignity, or their lack of it. Violence against anyone, simply because of who they are, is inexcusable and alien to what it means to be a Christian.”

Mrs. Lappas joined with LGBT activists who criticized the statements as not going far enough. “I think it is a mistake. We live in a country where same-sex marriage is legal in nineteen states (twenty-nine by the time of publication, including the District of Columbia and Pennsylvania), and from a civil rights perspective, gays deserve their rights,” she said. “It would be like looking at violence in Birmingham in the 1960’s and not saying it had a racial charge to it. It’s a mistake.”

Malvern is in a unique position coming from the attack, especially with the fall play being The Laramie Project, based on the murder of a gay man in Laramie, Wyoming in 1998. “Having that [the play] go on is a nice reminder that we need to be more Christ-like, and to learn to accept one another,” said Dr. Fry, Director of Student Life and the Malvern Theatre Theatre Society.

“The fact that this kind of event is still happening in Philadelphia is disappointing,” Fry went on to say, “It is a time where we need to look at ourselves, and say, ‘We still have to respect each other for who we are.’”