Hate crimes in Maryland increased by nearly 40 percent in 2016, according to a recently released State Police report. And the majority of those incidents were race-based.
For example, a few days after 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 congregation.
The report showed that the biggest spike in hate crimes came in November and December last year. Attorney General Brian Frosh, noticing that spike created a hate crimes hotline in his office. 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 Lt. Richard Collins III, a black newly commissioned Army officer and Bowie State Student. 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 firing a gun during a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA earlier that month.
Kaye Whitehead, an associate professor of African and African American studies at Loyola University, says racism is nothing new in Maryland, but these are dangerous times.
“It’s very reminiscent of what was happening at the height of the civil rights movement when you had churches being blown up in Alabama, Arkansas, and Mississippi,” she says. “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 and Montgomery counties recorded the highest number of hate crimes, while Anne Arundel, where the numbers more than doubled, had the largest percentage increase.
The 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 white nationalist organization headquartered in Alabama, but left the organization shortly before the 2014 election, after coming under heavy public criticism.
“As you can imagine most of them want to keep that off the record and under cover,” said Robert Futrell, chair of the sociology department at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “That way you can speak to those groups in coded language – that they can feel embraced.”
Futrell, co-author of “American Swastika: Inside the White Power Movement's Hidden Spaces of Hate” says people in hate groups aren’t who you might think.
“Over the last decade and a half they have been hiding,” he says. “The bigger picture in all of this – there are folks who are the stereotypical, undereducated lower class folks in these networks all the way to millionaires, PHDs, every strata. It’s really diverse.
In addition to the increase in hate crimes, that 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.
Kaye Whitehead at Loyola says these numbers are puzzling. “I’m wondering – whether it is harder to investigate because there are more crimes that take place,” she asked. “Is it that people don’t come forward as witnesses? Is it because the incidents that take place are so wide? Is it because people put in their claims then take them out? They become afraid?”
The answer to those questions isn’t clear.