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State HRC, Congress member condemn Perry in joint statement

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch

On Friday, the head of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission and a U.S. representative from Philadelphia condemned U.S. Rep. Scott Perry following his denial that systemic racism exists in America. 

In a joint statement, PHRC Director Chad Dion Lassiter and Rep. Dwight Evans, D-Pa., also addressed comments made by the Carroll Township Republican suggesting there was more to the story of George Floyd's death and that the deaths of Black people at the hands of police have been sensationalized.

Executive Director Chad Dion Lassiter, MSW, of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, speaks during the fourth installment of the PHRC's York Town Hall Series at Guthrie Memorial Library in Hanover, Thursday, July 11, 2019. Dawn J. Sagert photo

"Public officials have a duty to look beyond their own individual lives to the larger community they are supposed to serve," the statement read. "If you haven’t experienced a troubling police stop, haven’t had to receive ‘the talk’ about police that African American parents still have to have with their children in 2020, and never been followed around in a store because of the color of your skin, those are the types of out-of-touch comments you might make."

More:Perry: Systemic racism isn't real, Black deaths sensationalized

More:Former York County GOP chair disavows Perry following comments about race

Perry came under intense scrutiny following his comments Wednesday at a 10th Congressional District forum held by the Rotary Club of York in Spring Garden Township.

"What is systemic? That means there's a system of. If there's a system, someone had to create that system," he said. "Someone is operating and nurturing the system to keep it going. I don't know who in our country is doing that."

The Civil War was fought to "cleanse" the U.S. of institutional racism, Perry said. 

Social media users and his Democratic opponent, state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, quickly pounced, calling Perry's comments tone-deaf and racist. 

A spokesperson for Perry later said that the four-term member of Congress believes racism is abhorrent but did not walk back the claims Perry made at the event. 

Following Wednesday's event, former York County GOP chair Bob Wilson said he and his wife, a Caribbean American, donated to DePasquale. It was the first time he had ever donated to a Democrat, he said.

In addition to Perry's comments about systemic racism, his specific reference to the death of Floyd, a Black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck in May, was reported on by The Washington Post and The Hill.

Floyd had reportedly had fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system at the time of his encounter with police, Perry said, which he said meant the situation wasn't as cut-and-dry as people have claimed.

The drugs, however, were not listed as a cause of death. The death has been ruled a homicide.

"If Mr. Floyd hadn’t had a knee on his neck for nearly 9 minutes, he would probably be alive today. That is like promoting the discredited idea that most of the 186,000 Americans who died from the coronavirus died from something else," Friday's joint statement stated.

Shortly after Perry's comments, Sabato's Crystal Ball, of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, changed the 10th Congressional District race's classification from "lean Republican" to "tossup."

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.