After the Feb. 15 assault of a Jewish Penn State student on Main Campus, President Ann Weaver Hart issued a statement labeling the attack a hate crime.
Last Thursday, administration, faculty, students, a representative from the Anti-Defamation League and Jewish community leaders held a “town hall” meeting at the Temple Hillel to discuss the assault. As The Temple News reported this week [“Hate crime gets Hillel meeting,” Morgan A. Zalot, March 4, 2008], the town hall meeting allowed for many different groups to come together to discuss how to proceed in the wake of the events and allowed other past injustices to come to light. Dean of Students Ainsley Carry even hinted at a new way of reporting these kinds of crimes.
But some are questioning the chain of events that led to the assault. In a letter to the editor, a reader wrote that Stephen Scott, 19, had been previously assaulted at a party at Alpha Epsilon Pi, the Jewish fraternity on campus. David Scott, 20, then led the attack on the victim later that night. The Scott brothers, as well as Michael Walsh, 20, and Bryan Pedreiro, 18 were arrested in connection with the assault and charged with simple and aggravated assault, ethnic intimidation, criminal conspiracy, and reckless endangerment. It is the ethnic intimidation charge that classifies this attack as a hate crime. This additional charge means that the suspects, if found guilty, could be subject to stricter penalties.
But the motivations behind the attack should not be the central issue here. There is no doubt that some crimes are based in hatred, but the emotions behind the crime are not relevant. Pennsylvania law provides specific penalties for specific crimes and should not have to take in to account the motivations behind those crimes. The Temple Hillel meeting allowed the community to react and air its grievances. The law should not have the same responsibility.
The true tragedy of this situation is the assault of the visiting student, not the motivations behind it. Concerns about labeling the attack a hate crime take away from the injustice that was done to him. This case exemplifies why classifying some injustices as hate crimes is fundamentally flawed. The injuries the student sustained are the same whether he was targeted for his religion or not. Organizers of the town meeting should be commended for bringing the community together in a time like this, but prosecutors should not have the same obligation.