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Possible threats to Pa. Capitol: What we know

The Investigator

January 14, 2021 | spotlightpa.org

Tracking racial data, campus racism, transparency promises, advancing amendments, possible threats, pandemic bills, found ballots, and key races.

It took more than a year, but another Spotlight PA report has delivered results.

The Pennsylvania State Police announced this week that it had resumed collecting racial data during traffic stops, a direct response to a previous investigative report by Angela Couloumbis and Daniel Simmons-Ritchie. What they found: The State Police had quietly stopped collecting that data in 2012, making it nearly impossible to detect potential racial profiling.

Now, the State Police has again partnered with the University of Cincinnati to analyze its data, and is promising "transparency and continuous improvement."

On Wednesday, Spotlight PA held a free, live interview event with Daniel Greenstein, chancellor of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. During the interview with Engagement Fellow Yaasmeen Piper, Greenstein said he was "ashamed to admit" he had not studied how the system itself has historically perpetuated inequity and pledged to learn more.

As Spotlight PA previously reported, the state system has faced ongoing criticism from students and lawmakers about its lackluster response to racist incidents on its campuses, as well as a persistent achievement gap between white students and students of color.

This kind of impact would be impossible without support from our readers and monthly donors. If you value hard-hitting reporting and live events on critical issues, please consider becoming a member of Spotlight PA and making a contribution. Gifts of any amount make a difference.

Also this week, Couloumbis and the team at The Caucus examined the record of the state Senate's top lawmaker, Jake Corman, who vowed to restore faith in government by increasing transparency in the legislature and by elected lawmakers. But the GOP has for years failed to move proposed reforms.

Sarah Anne Hughes, Spotlight PA


"Some people might call that hypocrisy."

—Christopher Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College, on a GOP leader's call for transparency after he himself showed why such reforms are needed

» COVID-19 UPDATE: Keep up with our coronavirus tracker, and sign up for alerts for your county.

» GOP lawmakers want the power to end governor’s emergency orders

» GOP moves to exert more control over judiciary branch

» Federal judge rules for Democratic candidate GOP refused to seat

» Lawmaker who marched to U.S. Capitol before attack told to resign

What we know about possible threats against the state Capitol in Harrisburg

Since the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, the FBI has warned local and state law enforcement agencies of mass demonstrations with possible violence at state capitol buildings across the nation between this weekend and Inauguration Day.

In Pennsylvania, which has been in the national spotlight because of its decisive role in the presidential election, armed Capitol Police are patrolling the Harrisburg complex and barriers have been erected. 

Both Capitol and State Police told Spotlight PA they’re treating possible protests similar to others they’ve seen in recent months. Those have included ReOpen PA gatherings criticizing the governor’s coronavirus mitigation efforts and Stop the Steal events, where lawmakers and pro-Trump protesters have echoed baseless claims of election fraud.

Many of those rallies have included armed protestors and militia groups, such as The Three Percenters, whose members were seen storming the U.S. Capitol last week. While there have been tense moments, the events in Pennsylvania have not become violent.

The severity of the threat at the state Capitol is unclear. State officials would not disclose if there are specific threats and said enhanced security is precautionary. State Police said it would “assist with personnel and other resources as necessary in the event of civil unrest.” The department is also holding a news briefing at 4 p.m. today to release what security measures it will be taking throughout the week. 

It’s been harder to publicly monitor the activity of right-wing extremist groups because the usual channels for past organizing — such as Facebook, Parler, and Gab — have either been shut down, removed, or overwhelmed to the point of being unusable

Lyndsay Kensinger, a spokesperson for Gov. Tom Wolf, said Wednesday the administration is prepared and constantly sharing intelligence with local, state, and federal law enforcement.

“While we can’t comment on specific groups or investigations, we can say that we are monitoring all potential threats in order to protect the citizens of Pennsylvania,” Kensinger said.

On Facebook, state Sen. Doug Mastriano (R., Franklin), who attended last week’s pro-Trump rally in Washington but said he left after he learned about the deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, pleaded with his followers to not go to any protests.

“Hearing some troubling things, and we just don't want to fall for it,” Mastriano said Tuesday. “No rallies or protests through the end of next week. As a favor to Doug Mastriano, I ask you to do that.”

Joseph Darius Jaafari and Cynthia Fernandez, Spotlight PA

PANDEMIC BILLS: Nearly 1 million Pennsylvanians have fallen behind on their utility bills, The Inquirer reports, with the debt totaling more than $808 million. That's a 70% jump from a year ago, and the number is only expected to grow. A proposal to provide aid to people behind on their utility bills went nowhere last year in the GOP-controlled legislature.

LOST AND FOUND: Westmoreland County is processing more than two dozen provisional ballots found "stuffed under a touchscreen computer" in late December, TribLIVE reports. None of the votes will alter the outcome of races already certified.

IMPROPERLY PRIORITIZED: UPMC in Pittsburgh vaccinated its own employees who almost never set foot in medical facilities ahead of front-line workers from other organizations, WESA reports. The state previously told hospitals to reserve at least 10% of inoculations for unaffiliated medical providers.

KEY RACES: As organizers in Allegheny County continue their fight to end cash bail, they're drawing attention to the magisterial district judge races that will be on the ballot this year, Pittsburgh City Paper reports. Those judges have discretion in setting bail and can do away with the practice entirely.

MISSING CONNECTION: Federal and state efforts to deliver reliable internet to rural public school students have been a major disappointment, The Incline, Mon Valley Independent, and McKees Rocks Gazette 2.0 report as part of the Pittsburgh Media Partnership collaborative reporting project. School districts are still trying to fill in the gaps.

» AP: Pa. makes more people eligible for COVID-19 vaccine

» INQUIRER: Controversial U.S. attorney in Philadelphia resigns

» PUBLICSOURCE: Pa. could become new abortion rights battleground

» THE HILL: Fetterman raises $500K after floating U.S. Senate run

» TRIBLIVE: Pa. encourages in-person learning for elementary students

Send your answers to riddler@spotlightpa.org. Love the riddler? Chip in and become a member of Spotlight PA so we can keep the good times rolling.

CHEMISTRY CLASS (Case No. 75): A famous chemist was found dead in his lab. A note found next to the body listed four elements: Sulfur, Cobalt, Lanthanum, and Nickel. That was all detectives needed to know the killer's name. What was the name?
Feeling smart? Challenge a friend.

Last week's answer: Forgive and forget.
Congrats to Norman S., who will receive Spotlight PA swag. Others who answered correctly: Philip C., Don H., Karen K., Alive O., Lynda G., Michael H., Bruce B., John D., Judy A., Irene T., Ann C., William D., John H., Annette I., Joan C., Dennis P., Kathy M., Edward F., Beth T., Sandy O., Beverly M., Jason C., Joseph S., Marvin S., Jyotin S., Robert K., Mary Ellen Y., Brian P., and Jon N.
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