By Mike Dunn
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A Philadelphia City Council committee today advanced a bill that adds hate crimes to the city code.
Police officials support the idea but fear it could lead to a legal quagmire that lets the criminals off easy.
The measure before the Public Safety committee of City Council would add, for the first time, a violation to the city code covering hate crimes, allowing up to a 90-day jail term beyond the sentence for the crime itself.
Among those speaking at the hearing in support was Jordan Davis (top photo), a transgender woman who moved the Philadelphia a few years ago.
“My first Saturday in the city, back in 2011, I was walking past the west face of City Hall and was chased by a youth screaming ‘faggot’ at me, which led to one of them punching me in the face. While I was living in Philadelphia, I’ve been punched, kicked, choked, body slammed,” she testified.
Davis added that she eventually moved to Montgomery County and said the abuse there is far less frequent.
Capt. Francis Healy of the Philadelphia Police Department also spoke in support, but said because this violation would be separate from the state criminal code, a savvy defense attorney could claim “double jeopardy” — and that might mean the perpetrator would face only the lesser city violation.
“The last thing you want to want to do is compromise or lose a conviction of some thug who has beaten up a gay or lesbian couple on some technicality,” Healy told the councilmembers.
Healy said if Council does give final approval to the plan, the police department would work with the DA’s office to make sure the scenario he described does not happen.
Ideally, he said, the problem would be solved if the state legislature adds hate crimes to the state code.
“If this does anything, hopefully this makes the state act, so we don’t have to worry about this nonsense.”
Rue Landau, head of the city’s Human Relations Commission, also called for state action:
“This is a great step for Philadelphia,” she said. “But absolutely, Pennsylvania has to right their wrong, and fix that law for the entire commonwealth. We in Philadelphia always want to do the right thing that is equal and is just. And the state has to follow our lead. They absolutely must enact this law.”
Despite the police department’s concerns, the committee approved the measure, which now goes to the full City Council for a vote, perhaps as early as next week.
The measure was prompted by the beating of a gay couple in center city last month.