'Uptick' in hate vandalism reported at University of Maryland, Baltimore County

Incidents of hate crimes and acts of intolerance at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County have doubled in 2017 as police report finding swastikas drawn around the 13,600-student Catonsville campus.

“This is new,” said Paul Dillon, deputy chief of police at UMBC.

Daily crime logs show 10 incidents classified as hate crimes so far this year. Dillon said most involved swastikas drawn or etched on various surfaces, including desks and bathroom stalls.

Two other incidents began as hate crime investigations and were revised. Police determined that one incident did not sufficiently show bias. The other was a slur against Black Lives Matter, which police determined is a political group and not protected by hate-crime laws.

Seven of the 10 incidents took place over the summer or this fall, and one, a swastika carved in a table, was found last week. Police issued a crime alert last week asking for information.

From 2013 to 2016, no more than five hate incidents were reported in a year.

Dillon cautioned against reading too much into the numbers.

“Obviously if you have three [hate crimes], then when you get four you have a 33 percent increase. So the statistical significance needs to be taken with a grain of salt," he said. “It is definitely an uptick.”

Police do not know whether the incidents are related, Dillon said. Random graffiti is difficult to investigate because it often takes place without witnesses, he said.

“My gut tells me that maybe an individual is responsible for some of these,” Dillon said, “but we don’t have anything concrete.”

“Hateful and discriminatory language or symbols are an affront to our campus values and we will continue to actively investigate acts of intolerance and hate crimes,” Candace Dodson-Reed, a UMBC spokeswoman, said.

The increase tracks with what some say is a broader increase in anti-Semitism across the U.S., seen in crime reports as well as high-profile incidents like the summertime white nationalist march in Charlottesville, Va.

An April Anti Defamation League report said that anti-Semitic vandalism nationwide increased by 36 percent in the first quarter of 2017 as compared to the same period last year. Incidents on college campuses rose slightly, the report said, though the largest rise was in incidents at elementary, middle and high schools.

Baltimore County reported 20 instances of hate-related vandalism in 2015, the most recent year for which statistics are available.

The Community College of Baltimore County, whose Catonsville campus is near UMBC, has not reported any hate-related incidents in its daily crime logs this year.

Dillon said that police do not believe there is a threat of violence to students or staff on campus, adding: “A swastika in and of itself is a threat, because of what it represents, but there are no specific threats against any groups.”

“We haven’t experienced any students feeling particularly concerned, or expressing concern around these symbols,” said Lisa Gray, associate director of diversity and inclusion at UMBC. “I think our students are thoughtful and understand that their response to something needs to be appropriate to whatever the action is.”

Rabbi Jeremy Fierstien, who leads UMBC’s Hillel, said that the campus Jewish community is not concerned about physical safety, but rather “having a conversation about what antisemitism is, where it comes from and how we work together against this."

A hate crime, Dillon said, is defined as an underlying crime along with a determination that the motivation for the crime was bias.

An act of intolerance, on the other hand, does not have an underlying crime. For example, Dillon said, a student who drew a swastika on a chalkboard could be sanctioned by the student judicial court, but could not be criminally charged.

Several instances of property damage involve permanent markers, Dillon said, which requires calling in a cleaning crew at a cost of around $20.

Dillon estimated that the small swastika etched in the table last week could cost around $100 to sand out.

Gray said that she plans to meet with Dillon to make a plan to educate the campus community about tolerance and how to report hate-related incidents.

UMBC’s branch of Hillel, an international Jewish campus organization, is planning campus events like an informal question-and-answer session with a local rabbi to talk about anti-semitism and “why it may be rearing its ugly head more recently,” Fierstien said.

“Because of the larger sociopolitical climate we’re all in at this point, we’re noticing that historically connected symbols of bias and hate are popping up more,” Gray said. “We just want to make sure that we watch what that could mean … any kind of signaling that a particular group is not welcome, we take seriously.”

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