Race-based hate crimes jump in Maryland in 2016
Hate crimes in Maryland increased by nearly 40 percent in 2016, according to a recently released State Police report. The majority of the incidents were race-based and if you’ve been tallying up the news recently, that probably doesn’t surprise you.
For example, a few days after Donald Trump won the presidential election last November, vandals spray- painted, “Trump Nation, Whites Only” on the Episcopal Church of Our Savior in Silver Spring, a predominately black and Latino parish.
November and December, the report shows, had big spikes in hate crimes.
Attorney General Brian Frosh noticed this spike, well before the report came out, and created a hotline for hate crimes in his office (1-866-481-8361). But that wasn't the end of it.
Last May, Sean Urbanski, a 22-year-old white University of Maryland student was charged with murder in the stabbing death of 2nd Lt. Richard Collins III, a black newly commissioned Army officer about to graduate from Bowie State University.
Urbanski, who belonged to a Facebook group called “Alt Reich Nation,” was indicted on a hate crime charge in October.
Richard Preston, the leader of a Ku Klux Klan chapter headquartered in Rosedale, was arrested in August, charged with discharging a firearm within 1000 feet of a school during a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA earlier that month. He’s being held in Virginia.
"Since the election, [white supremacists] feel emboldened," says Kaye Whitehead, an associate professor of African and African American studies at Loyola University.
She says racism is nothing new in Maryland, but she says, these are dangerous times.
"It's very reminiscent of what was happening at the height of the civil rights movement. But now, it's around the country and particularly in places where you have a lot of tension and Maryland is one of those places."
Baltimore County and Montgomery County had the largest number of hate crimes. And the largest percentage increase was in Anne Arundel County, where the numbers more than doubled.
That increase follows by two years the election of Michael Peroutka to Anne Arundel’s County Council. Peroutka was on the board of the League of the South, a political advocacy group that supports white nationalism. After public pressure, he officially left the group.
"Most of [people in hate groups] want to keep that off the record and under cover...these folks blend in and infiltrate the system," says Robert Futrell, the chair of the sociology department at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Futrell is the co-author of American Swastika: Inside the White Power Movement's Hidden Spaces of Hate and says the people committing these crimes and those in hate groups aren’t who you might think.
"The bigger picture in all this is that there are folks who are the stereotypical undereducated, lower class folks in this movement or in these networks all the way to millionaires, PHDs - you name it. It's really diverse and all over the United States."
In addition to the increase in hate crimes, the State Police report showed a low arrest rate for hate crimes in Maryland. Police throughout the state made arrests in only 14 percent of verified incidents of race or ethnicity based crimes and no arrests for other types of hate crimes.
The report also shows that the arrest rate has significantly decreased in the last two years.
Earlier this month, six students at Bel Air High School hung letters on their shirts to spell out a racial epithet and a seventh took their picture and circulated it on social media.
The Bel Air Police Department says they've documented the incident as a hate crime, but they will not be arresting the students.
The State Police report also mentions that there may be more incidents of hate crimes than are listed. They may go unreported, or as one police officer told WYPR, local police departments interpret crimes differently, thus reporting them differently when statistics are turned over to the state police.
WYPR is partnering with Propublica and other news outlets to build a national database that of all hate/ bias incidents. Documenting Hate hopes to create a record of these incidents that can be investigated by reporters.