I am deeply burdened by reports of violence and harassment against members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander or AAPI community.These attacks range from verbal harassment to brutal physical assaults, and Pennsylvania is no exception. A local outreach ministry serving the homeless reported the robbery of an AAPI homeless woman in Montgomery county whose blanket was taken from her because she was Asian and just a week ago, the Executive Director of Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation was verbally accosted on the street. Local reports of verbal harassment and worse linked to Coronavirus date back to at least February. Wikipedia now includes a page tracking worldwide coronavirus related hate crimes with a section for Pennsylvania. AAPI businesses in Philadelphia and the suburbs began to feel the brunt of racist responses to Coronavirus more than a month before social distancing was even a concept for the rest of us.
The history of this great country suggests that these reports are likely just the tip of the iceberg. But that same history also suggests that there exists a plurality of us who have endured such treatment who now must be ready to support our brothers and sisters in the face of such horrific shared experience. Bigotry and hatred have been the disease that has plagued this country long before COVID.
It’s time to talk about racism and the rise of hate groups in Pennsylvania. According to the 2019 Year in Hate and Extremism produced by the Intelligence Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center or SPLC, “hundreds of hate groups are operating in America, targeting immigrants and refugees, LGBTQ people, Muslims, Jews, Blacks and other people of color.” The SPLC warns violence and extremism of hate groups is not “merely a criminal crisis in America. It is also a political crisis… and has to be engaged politically.” I agree with the SPLC’s call for a national movement against hate violence in America. There is an unfiltered, racist rhetoric that has found a home on the dark web and sanctuary in our national discourse. It is time for a movement against organized bigotry by all levels of government.
SPLC’s Hatewatch identified 36 active hate groups and 42 anti-government groups active in Pennsylvania during 2019. The Anti-Defamation League recorded 171 hate related incidents in Pennsylvania, nearly one every other day during 2019. Of 171 incidents in the state, 69 occurred in Philadelphia and 4 took place in this very district. These are just the incidents that are reported to the ADL. Many are never reported.
When it comes to reporting these incidents to the FBI, Pennsylvania has a chronically low reporting rate and the Pennsylvania statute defining what constitutes a hate crime is overly restrictive and outdated. The current legal definition includes only the categories of race, religion and ethnicity, placing Pennsylvania law among the weakest in the country. However, we are fortunate to have the PA Human Relations Commission that enables the reporting of bias incidents that do not meet the threshold of a statutory hate crime. Many states do not have this type of mechanism.
In October of 2019, our own State Rep. Steve McCarter was one of 42 members of the Pennsylvania House to co-sponsor four bills that are known as the Hate Crimes Legislation Package (HB 2013, HB 2012, HB 2010, HB 2011). They are proposing reforms and improvements that will fulfill the recommendations in the SPLC report by “educating, training and assisting civil society to effectively respond to social movements that exploit bigotry and intolerance.” The co-sponsors noted that, of the 1,463 law enforcement agencies across the state that submitted numbers on crimes in 2017, only 20 submitted hate crime incident reports. It’s past time to equip law enforcement officials with the tools they need to properly investigate, identify and report hate crimes. The four proposed bills will:
- Increase penalties for those convicted of a hate crime
- Provide law enforcement with more tools to identify and react to hate crimes
- Require those convicted of hate crimes to complete diversity classes and allow community impact statements
- Extend protections to people in the LGBTQ and disabled communities
- Provide post secondary students with a way to anonymously report hate crimes
I have spent this last week consulting with leaders in the AAPI community, Civil Rights attorneys, scholars, law enforcement, and members of our faith community to better understand how these crimes impact our AAPI brothers and sisters, how these proposed reforms would improve reporting procedures in law enforcement and in higher education, and what might need to be added to make these bills even more effective. From those conversations, I believe we need to go further, creating systems that allow victims and witnesses to have a straight-forward and language-accessible way to report incidents and one in which victims are supported in pursuing justice. We must put funding behind these initiatives so they are not unfunded mandates that add requirements without giving our law enforcement departments the resources they need. Hate crimes need to be named for what they are, investigated and prosecuted. Further, we must fund the security measures that will make our synagogues, mosques and community centers that serve the AAPI, immigrant, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh and Hindu, communities safe places to worship and gather.
It is time to identify and investigate crimes committed by those that espouse hateful extremist views against ethnic, religious, immigrant, sexual orientation, and gender identity groups as well as those living with disability. It is time to pass these bills in Harrisburg. It is time to fund this work within law enforcement agencies. Finally, it is time that we draw on that faith that each of our dark pasts have taught us and stand in solidarity against racism and hatred. Let us all stand up and refuse to tolerate this kind of behavior. It is our tolerance of these behaviors that weakens us all.
Friends and Neighbors:
While it has been an overwhelming two weeks for many, I want to take a breath and share some inspirational successes with you. Last week, I directed my campaign staff to reach out and find ways to help our community members. As of today, we have made hundreds of calls to members of our community to ask how they are doing, find out if they have questions, need help or want to reach out and help others.
This week I held our second weekly Business Roundtable and contacted every food pantry serving the 154th District, Meals on Wheels and the homeless outreach program at St. Miriams. We published an up-to-date list of food pantries serving those who need food assistance. In addition, we published a list of pantries that need donations and how to contact each of them. This information is hosted on the Neighbors Helping Neighbors in the 154th Facebook group. I invite all of you to join, post needs, suggest solutions, and to share posts with your networks. We must work together to build the community solutions that government has not or cannot build.
The Business Roundtable is held at 10:15am every Tuesday and is open to local business owners. Please help spread the word with small businesses in Cheltenham, Springfield and Jenkintown. I want to encourage everyone to #ShopLocal and support our small business owners. We are working to sustain business during the crisis and provide help to the needy in our communities. With your help we can make a difference.
Over the weekend I received an urgent request from the homeless outreach program at St. Miriam Parish on Bethlehem Pike. In a typical week, this outreach ministry provides non-perishable food and supplies to over 150 homeless men and women throughout the region. Thomas, the coordinator, told me the supply of food for the homeless in our region is dangerously low. Donations to shelters have dropped precipitously, shelters can no longer serve as many as they could a two weeks ago and St. Miriam’s deliveries to the most vulnerable have been overwhelmed by the growth in the hungry and desperate. In response to this emergency need, we partnered with Anne’s Kitchen Table in Glenside to deliver bagged meals to the homeless yesterday evening. We worked with Enza Pizzaria in Flourtown to facilitate the next fresh-made delivery on Tuesday of this week.
St. Miriams homeless ministry is just one of the many organizations, businesses, and households throughout this community that need our support. We recently shared a post on Neighbors Helping Neighbors asking for donations of non-perishable single serving food and informing those in need of where and when they can access food pantries serving the 154th.
Will you help support this effort by joining the weekly Business Roundtable and Neighbors Helping Neighbors? Will you take the time to #ShopLocal and support the restaurants and small businesses in the 154th? They need our support. You have the opportunity to pay it forward and purchase a gift card so these businesses can support those who bear the burden of food insecurity by providing a prepared meal for a food pantry.
I thank you for your continued support and ask you to help the campaign so we can continue to reach members of the community who need help and to encourage them to vote in the upcoming election. With your help we can make certain every voter in our district receives a call to ask how they are doing, if they need help and a friendly person to relieve the stress of social isolation with a caring conversation.
We’re failing... I don’t want to admit it, but we’re failing.
Societies all over the world share a pretty clear vision of how life is supposed to progress. First we learn. Then we work. Then we rest. We are supposed to invest in our children so they can grow up happy and healthy, earn their keep, raise families, own their own homes, and then as they look to the twilight of their days, they are able to reflect and pass along their hard-earned wisdom to the next generation.
But what happens when we fail to adequately teach our young people?
We know the answer - we‘ve seen it. The child who falls through the cracks, the lost future, the untapped potential. Our democracy, our economy and the future of our community depends on a public school system where children can learn. It’s important to me, to you and to the future of Pennsylvania.
However, when our public school system lacks a pipeline of young, trained educators, counselors, and nurses, we’re failing. When our school buildings are filled with mold and asbestos instead of technology and energy efficient fixtures, we’re failing. When our teachers spend their time proctoring high stakes tests and leading students through active shooter drills, we’re failing. When our students come to school hungry or homeless or struggling with trauma or presenting a need for specialized programming or even programming that they can relate to, and we do nothing only to watch them fall behind their peers, we’re failing. When funding our schools forces our seniors and businesses out of our community and invites private investors seeking a profit, we’re failing.
My education platform includes four major focus areas: PreK-12, Career Tech & Higher Education, School Employees, and School Funding.
- Advance universal access to quality Pre-K programs
- Ensure school facilities meet the health and educational needs of students
- Fund environmentally efficient building renovation
- Promote learning spaces that are stimulative, engaging, and sensitive to student triggers
- Make sure that all students have access to counseling, mental health, and nursing professionals
- Ensure students with special needs are receiving the services they require
- Fund remediation programming for students that fall behind
- Require cyber, public, and other charter schools to be equally accountable and transparent
- Focus on the whole child rather than performance on high stakes testing
- Declare equitable education as a right for all students
- Ensure all students are safe from violence and sexual assault
Career, Technical and Higher Education Priorities
- Ensure the cost of a degree does not exceed a student’s earning potential
- Increase funding for vocational education and programming
- Declare equitable education as a right for all students
- Expand PA Loan Forgiveness programs for needed fields of study
- Address the housing and food insecurities facing our students
- Ensure all students are safe from violence and sexual assault
School Employee Priorities
- Expand education certification requirements for all teachers in publicly funded schools
- Promote adequate wages for full and part-time staff
- Protect the rights of workers to unionize
- Promote an accountability system that is both fair and rigorous
- Ensure all staff are safe from violence and harassment
- Build a pipeline of future teachers, counselors, mental health workers
School Funding Priorities
- Reform our property tax system to provide significant relief to seniors and low-income residents
- Close tax loopholes for businesses
- Provide adequate funding to schools based on their needs, not their existing share of a pie that is already too small
- Provide funding for educational mandates to ensure legislative burdens are not passed along to local tax-payers
I want to go to Harrisburg to build a school system that our community needs. One that is equitable and accountable. When we get to Harrisburg, we will redefine what “fair and adequate” really means. It will be our children who will continue our efforts to reverse the damage we have done to our climate. It will be our children who will end hunger and homelessness. It will be our children who will end mass incarceration and institutionalized racism. It will be our children who will heal this world from corrupt dictators, fake news, and greedy corporations!
While their time to lead is coming, I am so thankful that it is not here because we have not taught them what they will need to know... Yet.