Comments made last week by Republican U.S. Senate candidate, Pat Toomey, regarding his opposition to hate crime legislation, have outraged former NFL player Franco Harris.
Harris contacted the Courier to explain the importance of hate crime legislation and what Toomey’s remarks say about him as a candidate.
“I feel that hate crimes are more premeditated in a way and because of that I think that’s why they should be treated differently,” Harris said. “When you have a crime against a certain community of people it turns into fear tactics, it gets to be psychological. We need to look at that in a bigger, broader sense and realize that there’s bigger, broader consequences.”
Harris also argued that this kind of legislation should be handled at the federal level and not decided by individual states.
“This seems to be the position of a federal issue versus a state issue. There have been many incidents in the past where we’ve seen what states have done and if there are certain majorities in certain states they seem to take more leniency towards certain things,” Harris said. “We definitely have gone through certain eras in the country where that has happened and some people want to take us back, he wants to take Pennsylvania back. “
In an interview last week on Sept. 9, Toomey echoed comments made in 2004 when he expressed his opposition to hate crime legislation.
“I think it’s a bad idea for government to legislate on the basis of what they think people are thinking, what’s in a person’s mind or heart when they create a crime,” Toomey said in an interview with KDKA Political Editor Jon Delano.
Ten years ago, right after the turn of the new millennium, two incidents of violent “hate crimes” struck the city of Pittsburgh eliciting national attention. The first occurred when Ronald Taylor, African-American, killed three people, the second a few months later when Richard Baumhammers, Caucasian, killed five.
The courts ruled that both incidents were racially motivated and the perpetrators were charged with ethnic intimidation, which carried a harsher punishment. These homicides served as the impetus for then President Bill Clinton to push harder for stronger hate crime legislation.
Although Clinton was unable to accomplish his goal, last year on Oct. 28 President Barack Obama signed legislation to expand the definition from crimes committed on the basis of a person’s race, religion, ethnicity, or nationality. The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act expanded hate crime law to include crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.
Despite this perceived bi-partisan victory by the Senate, which passed the bill with a vote of 63 – 28, there are others like Toomey who stand in opposition to hate crime legislation.
“We shouldn’t have a system that is designed to say now, what was so and so thinking at the time he committed his crime and let’s punish him more or less depending of what we think the thought process was,” Toomey said. “That’s ridiculous. People should be punished for the crime they commit.”
Toomey’s opponent Joe Sestak said Toomey has taken a very extreme position that most moderate republicans do not agree with.
“I think it shows how extreme it is and how out of the mainstream. Both moderate republicans and democrats agree that there are crimes that are so heinous that they should have severe consequences,” Sestak said. “It’s the kind of crime that all Pennsylvanians believe you need these penalties to serve as a deterrent.”