Wife of Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor Asks for No Charges in Racist Tirade

October 16, 2020 

The Pennsylvania State Police said on Thursday that there was enough evidence to file criminal charges against a woman who unleashed a racist tirade at Gisele Barreto Fetterman, the wife of the state's lieutenant governor, while she was grocery shopping last weekend.

But Ms. Fetterman said she did not want the woman to face prosecution and had asked instead that she be given "the necessary treatment and intervention needed in order to break this cycle" of hate.

"I've asked for charges not to be pressed," Ms. Fetterman said on Thursday night, noting that a video of the encounter that she recorded and posted on Twitter had been viewed nearly two million times.

"From here, there's only up," Ms. Fetterman said. "My hope is she can see herself and see someone she doesn't like, and can use this opportunity to change."

Although the woman's name has not been released, the State Police said that she had been identified and that an investigation had determined that her conduct "does meet the culpability threshold necessary to support charging of several violations of the Pennsylvania Crimes Code."

"However, the Fetterman family has expressed their desire to avoid prosecution; preferring the woman be given an opportunity to engage appropriate social services and other resources," the State Police said. "This incident is a reminder of the toll racism takes on individuals as well as the community."

Ms. Fetterman's decision resonated with many on social media who saw it as an act of grace at a time when the nation has been bitterly torn apart by racist attacks and rhetoric.

"You are showing hate that it never wins," Jennifer W. Sheehan, a reporter at The Morning Call in Allentown, Pa., wrote in response to a tweet from Ms. Fetterman explaining her decision. "What a great example for others."

Ms. Fetterman, the wife of Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a Democrat, had gone to a grocery store on Sunday to pick up some golden kiwis and was standing in line to pay when a woman stopped and stared at her.

"'Oh, there is that N-word that Fetterman married,'" Ms. Fetterman recalled the woman saying to her, emphasizing in a phone interview on Monday that the woman used the racial slur without abbreviating it.

The woman kept repeating, "You don't belong here," before walking away, according to Ms. Fetterman, a former undocumented immigrant from Brazil who came with her mother and brother to New York City before she turned 8.

Shaken, Ms. Fetterman paid for her produce and headed to her car. The woman reappeared, pulling down her purple mask and repeating the racial slur to Ms. Fetterman, who recorded the encounter and shared it on Twitter.

Ms. Fetterman, 38, said she received her green card in 2004 and became a citizen in 2009. She and Mr. Fetterman married in 2008 and have three children. They live in Braddock, Pa., a borough east of Pittsburgh where Mr. Fetterman was formerly the mayor.

Mr. Fetterman, who was once called "the coolest mayor in America," has developed a cult following over the years. The shaven-headed, 6-foot-8-inch politician has his town's 15104 ZIP code tattooed on the inside of one arm. The other arm features the dates when people in the town died from what he called "senseless violence" while he was mayor.

"Gisele + I always believed the best outcome of this situation lay outside the criminal justice system," Mr. Fetterman wrote on Twitter. "We both hope the individual receives the intervention + compassion needed to reject hate."

Ms. Fetterman said she hoped her decision encourages others to speak out against racism in their own families and communities.

"I hope that other people can see others in her," she said. "They can see their uncle or their difficult cousin and, at Thanksgiving, maybe this is an opportunity to have those conversations."

Johnny Diaz contributed reporting.

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