State Sen. Vincent Hughes has petitioned and received a response from the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission regarding alleged Klu Klux Klan activity in Fairview Township.
The township is located in York, a city still stinging from the the 1969 race riots that left young African-American female Lillie Belle Allen dead and also led pollsters to question York native and Democratic gubernatorial primary candidate Tom Wolf’s involvement with the reelection campaign of one-time York Mayor Charlie Robertson.
Hughes sent the letter April 28, and received late last week a response from the commission.
Now, Hughes contends dredges of York’s racist past has reemerged, noting published reports of KKK activity in York, including leaflets that were distributed announcing a “Neighborhood Watch” program organized by the local chapter of the notorious white supremacist group. The fliers included a picture of a hooded individual in traditional Klan garb and a phone number for 24-hour “Klanline” where residents can report alleged suspicious activity.
“It’s real simple. We cannot allow the intolerant behavior form the KKK to go unaddressed. They cannot think there’s a spinet majority opposing their wishes, but there’a vocal majority that is opposed to their wishes,” Hughes said. “Anytime we see [KKK members] hanging around, lurking around, keeping their heads covered up and are looking to grow their organization, we’re going to speak on it.
“That’s why we went to the Human relations Commission, which is the arm of [state government] that as the authority to address these issues whenever they arrive,” Hughes continued. “The commission was created for this purpose. If there’s hate or intolerance, the commission has a responsibility to go weed it out and address it.”
Hughes cited as an example of KKK activity in Mechanicsburg, where Hughes said a similar membership drive is occurring there.
“They have a website with phone numbers with ‘take a stand, join the Klan,’ slogans, and these things cannot be allowed to rear unaddressed,” Hughes said. “We’ve got to be mindful that in these tough economic times where people’s finances are diminishing and the middle class is squeezed and the poor are squeezed even harder, that when people feel that pressure financially, they can act out in inappropriate ways.
“These organizations are deeply rooted in the financial plight of those who don’t understand that it isn’t about race, but about economic policy.”
Hughes relayed as much in his letter to Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission Executive Director JoAnn L. Edwards, in which Hughes took particular umbrage at the neighborhood watch aspect of the klan’s push.
“The Klan has its roots in open illegal violent activity not only toward African-Americans but all people of color. There are many documented accounts of vigilante justice resulting in the lynching of innocent people. This represents a very sad and disturbing chapter in American history,” read a portion of Hughes’ letter. “The concept of a ‘Neighborhood Watch’ is making all residents in a neighborhood feel safe. It is apparent through history and even to this day that the Ku Klux Klan is only concerned with the rights and protections of a specific group and is not concerned about the general welfare. This neighborhood watch clearly has the potential to increase racial profiling and racial tension.
“I urge you to take action, including contacting other members of the PA Interagency Task Force on Community Activities and Relations to address this issue. We cannot allow a rouge town watch operated by the Ku Klux Klan to take root in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” Hughes continued in his letter to the commission. “We cannot allow this kind of racism and intimidation to go unanswered. I urge you to use all of the resources at your disposal to investigate this matter and take the steps necessary to protect all members of the local community from the Klan and any other hate group operating in Pennsylvania.”
Edwards, in her response to Hughes, said the commission and its investigators are aware of the Klan activity and are planning to address it.
“As you mentioned in your April 28th letter, the PA Human Relations Commission, or PHRC, recently received media reports of KKK fliers distributed in Fairview Township, York County, Camp Hill, Cumberland County and just yesterday, in Canonsburg, Washington County. I assure you that we immediately engaged our state, federal and local partners in the Interagency Taskforce on Community Relations and Activities in advising these communities on effective and appropriate responses to purported KKK activity in their neighborhoods,” read a portion of Edwards’ response, in which Edwards also noted the PHRC has convened the taskforce, a network including representatives of the state police, the state’s attorney general, U.S. Dept. of Justice Community Relations Service, and numerous other public and private organizations across the state, which is tasked with preventing racial tensions and community unrest that may arise from expressions of hate or bias based on race, religion, ethnicity and other immutable group characteristics.
“Just to be clear, the PA Human Relations Commission does not conduct official investigations, with the exception of allegations of unlawful discrimination,” the response stated. “We alert our state, federal and local partners to incidents that may negatively affect the peaceful environment of a community or act as a barrier to equal opportunity. We refer incidents of criminal behavior or vandalism to the State Police, local and federal authorities, as appropriate.
“In response to incidents reported in Central PA ─ in which no laws have allegedly been violated, and anonymous, unsubstantiated KKK rumors have alarmed residents ─ we act in an advisory capacity, helping communities who wish to demonstrate that racial supremacy and hatred are not welcome, nor are they the prevalent attitude among residents,” the response stated.
Edwards also noted it would be difficult to move on the Klan on legal grounds for this specific activity, and urged more dialog on the issue.
How far that will go in dissuading the Klan in York is another ratter entirely, but the commission said it had relayed the proper information to the proper outlets; the task force will meet soon to address the community’s concerns.
“Just as you expressed in your letter, it has been our experience that neither purported nor confirmed KKK activity should be ignored. However, both can and should be met with constructive, unifying actions, rather than actions that escalate tensions and fan the flames of mistrust among neighbors,” read a portion of Edwards’ response. “PHRC and taskforce representatives contacted Fairview Township and Camp Hill officials, recommending responses. Both municipalities issued press releases, as has York County’s NAACP chapter, another taskforce partner. The taskforce will also follow up with local officials in Canonsburg. Taskforce and PHRC representatives attended a community meeting in Fairview Township, this past weekend’s Harrisburg Area YWCA Race Against Racism, and will do our best to attend any community meeting, unity rally or other event that promotes intergroup harmony and opposition to bias.”