‘Active bystander’ hate-crimes resolution stalled in committee

Photo by Kelly Burkhardt

A state House of Representatives resolution urging witnesses of hate crimes to be “active bystanders” and intervene on behalf of victims continues to languish in a committee.

HR117 was introduced in March and referred to the state Judiciary Committee, chaired by state Rep. Rob W. Kauffman (R-89th Dist.). He didn’t return calls or emails seeking comment about whether he’ll schedule a vote on the resolution.

The measure doesn’t mandate bystander involvement during a hate crime; instead, it encourages voluntary action. Failing to intervene would tend to “normalize” hate crimes in society, according to the resolution.

The resolution specifically covers anti-LGBT hate crimes. It notes that in 2017, reported hate crimes increased by 17 percent in the United States and by more than 27 percent in Pennsylvania.

State Rep. Jeanne McNeill (D-133rd Dist.), a cosponsor, said she strongly supports the resolution.

“I truly believe we should all speak up if someone is being bullied, intimidated or threatened,” McNeill told PGN. “Yell ‘Stop,’ call the police. Do something. We don’t want anyone else to get hurt. But you shouldn’t stand there and video it or walk away. Yell for help, call for police. Do not allow bullying to happen.”

McNeill said that, in reality, HR117 may never come up for a vote.

“I honestly don’t know if this will ever get to the floor for a vote. But I hope it does come up for a vote, and I will gladly vote for it.”

The representative added she’s sensitive to everyone’s safety.

“We’re not telling people to jump into a violent situation and get hurt. We’re saying to use common sense, try to distract [the offender] or at least get help from a police officer. Sometimes if you just scream ‘Stop, stop,’ that will be enough. The offender will know someone is watching. You may not think it will help, but it may help someone who’s getting beaten badly.”

State Rep. Mike Schlossberg (D-132nd Dist.), another cosponsor, said defending marginalized groups is everyone’s responsibility and not just that of law-enforcement officers.

“Everyone, obviously, has an obligation to protect themselves and keep themselves safe. Whatever someone feels comfortable with doing [is fine],” he said. “We all have an obligation to take care of each other. Something is always better than nothing.”

Examples of an intervention would be calling 911, removing a victim from the scene, reprimanding the perpetrator or seeking help from others, Schlossberg said.

He also expressed concern about the recent spike in reported hate crimes. “There’s been a rise in hate crimes across the board. We all have to encourage people to act when they can. Hate crimes are becoming normalized, especially in this political climate. I’m referring to what Trump is doing with his regular dehumanization of anyone different.”

State Rep. Joe Cirisi (D-146th Dist.), another cosponsor, said he recently witnessed an anti-trans hate crime and helped defuse the situation.

“I felt I did the right thing,” he said. “I just didn’t let it pass. I did my civic duty.”

Even if the resolution doesn’t pass, Cirisi said, he’ll continue to raise awareness about hate crimes and that they shouldn’t be viewed as normal in society. 

“We can’t legislate what people do in a situation like this. But we can bring light to the situation. One would hope people would use their best judgment for whatever they feel is the right course of action.” 

Cirisi added that ignoring a hate crime in progress is unacceptable.

“If you stand by and watch a hate crime, how can you justify that? If you know it’s a hate crime and you ignore the situation, you’re no better than the person doing it. You’re allowing it to happen.”

The representative said it’s incumbent upon his colleagues to support the resolution.

“As representatives of the state, we should send a message that we don’t stand for this and we don’t think this is right for these hate crimes to happen. We stand for the rights of all.” 


Photo by Kelly Burkhardt