On Monday, a Pennsylvania court sentenced a woman to only five to ten months in prison for her participation in a horrible attack against a gay couple in Philadelphia in September 2014. The crime and lightly imposed penalties illustrate the pressing need for Pennsylvania to amend their hate crime law to protect LGBT residents from bias-motivated crimes.
Kathryn Knott and fifteen other individuals, while on their way to a birthday party, confronted the gay couple, screamed homophobic slurs, and violently attacked them. The senseless assault left one of the men with a broken jaw and the other with a pair of black eyes.
In December, Knott was found guilty of simple assault and other misdemeanors, but she was acquitted of more serious felony charges. According to the AP, the court sentenced Knott to jail time less than the duration sought by prosecutors. The court also ordered her to receive anger management treatment and to stay out of Philadelphia during two years of probation. Only two others were identified as participants in the attack. Two co-defendants pled guilty and were placed on probation, required to perform community service, and ordered to stay out of Philadelphia. They did not receive jail time.
Only sixteen states plus the District of Columbia have laws that address bias-motivated crimes on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Unfortunately, Pennsylvania lacks an LGBT-inclusive law. Last November, the Philadelphia City Council updated the city’s hate crime law to include sexual orientation and gender identity. While this is an important step, all Pennsylvanians should be protected from the scourge of bias-motivated crimes.
In 2009, President Barack Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (HCPA). The law allows the federal government to prosecute individuals who have committed a violent crime against a person because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, and other characteristics. However, state level laws are still vitally important because they allow states to prosecute hate crimes without a federal nexus and in many instances crimes against property.
This attack vividly illustrated the senseless violence that often fuels hate. All Americans should have the opportunity to live openly, honestly, and safely in their community without fear of harassment or violence. While an act of violence against any individual is a tragic event, violent crimes based on prejudice have a much stronger impact because the motive behind the crime is to terrorize an entire group or community. HRC will continue to work with our coalition partners across the country to pass LGBT-inclusive hate crime laws.
Find out more about HRC’s state level advocacy here.