The letter appeared in the mailbox at Rue Landau’s home — not her office at the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations — in September.
The writer, a man who identified himself as “Harry Jolowicz,” attacked Landau, the executive director of the PCHR, for her condemnation of an apparent hate crime “before you had the facts.” (The incident in Weccacoe Playground in August turned out to be a prank by teenagers.)
He called her ugly and racist, and used homophobic, anti-Semitic and racial slurs.
“Why not try and stop real crime in North Philly, or are you OK with n-----s killing n-----s?” the handwritten letter said.
Landau called the police. And then, she said, “you sit back in fear knowing that some hateful person knows where you live and you hope that they don’t take this to the next level.”
Landau has chalked up the letter to the escalating state of hate in the city.
“The tone and tenor has changed, there is no doubt,” she said. “Messages are more hateful, more vicious and seem to be more intended to directly intimidate people.”
Hate crimes and bias incidents have been on the rise in recent years, but recent figures from the PCHR show the incidents continue to climb beyond what has been reported to police.
Growing numbers that don’t match up
The PCHR received 85 separate reports of hate crimes and bias incidents in 2018, according to a summary report from the PCHR-led Philadelphia Civil Rights Rapid Response. Of the total, 68 incidents were confirmed and the majority were motivated by race.
Since November 2016, PCHR has recorded a total of 198 separate hate incidents, of which 110 were confirmed and 71 were unconfirmed.
In contrast, the Philadelphia Police Department logged only 43 reports of hate crimes and bias incidents in 2018, said a police spokesman in an email. Last year’s total was an increase from 40 reported incidents in 2017, 21 in 2016, and 14 in 2015, according to the department’s figures.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation also tallied 40 hate crimes in Philadelphia in 2017 in its annual Uniform Crime Report, and 18 in 2016.
Chad Dion Lassiter, executive director of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, said he was not surprised about the discrepancy between the figures.
Many people, especially undocumented immigrants, are afraid to contact authorities, Lassiter said.
The PCHR’s figures are compiled from witnesses, victims and anonymous sources, Landau said.
“We’re trying to look for trends and we really want to make sure that we keep an eye on everything that’s occurring just in case some of the small incidents rise to the level of something more serious,” Landau said.
The police department did not return a request for comment about the figures.
Lassiter called for a more comprehensive, unified system to identify and report hate crimes at the state and city levels, as well as more police training about how to spot these issues.
“We need to bring everyone to the table to say, ‘This is the methodology and this is the way the reporting of hate crimes should be,’” Lassiter said.
How hate crimes are defined, tracked and prosecuted
A hate crime in Pennsylvania is termed ethnic intimidation, and defined as a criminal act motivated by ill will or hatred toward a victim’s race, color, religion or national origin, according to the state Human Relations Commission’s website. Sexual orientation is not covered under state law.
But the city’s hate crime law goes beyond the state’s to include offenses motivated by sexual orientation, gender and gender identity.
A bias incident is similar to ethnic intimidation but is not a crime.
The police department’s Detective Division of Occurrence investigates hate crimes and bias incidents, according to a department spokesman. The department follows up with the victim to provide additional support and referrals to other agencies for services.
But solving hate crimes and bias incidents is difficult, a police spokesman said.
“Detectives will look for video and witnesses but oftentimes no one comes forward to assist,” the police spokesman said.
The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office has charged one person with ethnic intimidation this year as of Jan. 31, according to a spokesman.
The following is the number of defendants charged in previous years, according to the district attorney’s office:
- 2018: 22 defendants
- 2017: 18 defendants
- 2016: 12 defendants
- 2015: 5 defendants
- 2014: 25 defendants
- 2013: 23 defendants
- 2012: 25 defendants
In recent years the PCHR has upgraded its data-collection system and built a stronger relationship with the Philadelphia Police Department to share information, which Landau said will provide a better accounting of incidents going forward.
Where hate crimes occur
According to the PCHR, incidents motivated by race — including anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic and anti-Islamic incidents — accounted for 62 out of the 85 total incidents in 2018. Anti-LGBT incidents made up the second largest group with 16 incidents.
Reported incidents against African Americans in Philadelphia included racist language and epithets, threats of violence, “and some have experienced violence,” Landau said.
Most incidents occurred in South Philadelphia, according to the PCHR. The top three types of offenses in 2018 were vandalism (mostly graffiti), terroristic threats and harassment.
The following is the number and types of hate crimes and biased incidents reported in 2018, according to the Philadelphia Civil Rights Rapid Response Team’s annual summary:
- South Philadelphia: 41 reported incidents
- Northwest: 11 reported incidents
- Northeast: 11 reported incidents
- Center City: 9 reported incidents
- East: 6 reported incidents
- North: 7 reported incidents
“We live in a city that is segregated geographically and there’s still a lot of racism here,” Landau said.
She said hate groups have been known to recruit around the city, and particularly in Northeast Philadelphia.
Lassiter added that, for African Americans and people of color, “there are a lot of not just micro-aggressions, there’s a lot of covert and ... overt racism that oftentimes goes unacknowledged and unchecked.”
Landau said the president’s rhetoric and policies don’t help.
“People hear the messages being sent from Washington,” she said, “and believe that it gives them license to act on the prejudices in Philadelphia.”