Frosh: 'upwelling' of hate speech in Maryland should be reported

Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh encouraged victims of racial and religious hate speech Monday to report the incidents, which he said appear to have risen since Donald Trump won the presidential election last week.

"There seems to be this upwelling of that kind of awful behavior — criminal behavior," said Frosh, the state's top law enforcement official. "Unless it's been happening quietly before, it seems like the incidents have increased."


Groups that track hate speech have reported a national uptick in racially and religiously motivated acts since the victory by Trump, a Republican. The Southern Poverty Law Center has counted 435 incidents of harassment and intimidation since Election Day, including 11 incidents in Maryland.

In Maryland, a string of highly publicized incidents at schools and a church has Frosh, a Democrat, and other Maryland leaders denouncing the behavior and trying to reassure targeted groups that law enforcement will support them.


A memorial wall at a Silver Spring church was vandalized over the weekend with the words "whites only" and "Trump nation." A Howard County teenager posted a picture of herself in blackface on social media, along with a slur for African-Americans. The same slur defaced a flier advertising a blood drive at Fallston High School in Harford County.

Several swastikas were found in a middle school boys bathroom in Bethesda last week. Howard County school officials on Monday were investigating bathroom graffiti at Murray Hill Middle School in Laurel. Officials would describe the message only as racially or religiously intolerant.

Frosh, a Democrat, blamed Trump's campaign rhetoric on race, religion, disability and sexual orientation for helping to unleash what's "obviously becoming a problem all over the place."

"I think that the discourse in the presidential campaign reached levels lower than ever before," Frosh said in an interview. "It made it seem like this kind of behavior was either acceptable or at least not illegal."

Frosh said he's considering ways to help local law enforcement investigate hate crimes, which are prosecuted by the state's 24 local state's attorneys.

In an interview recorded Friday and aired Sunday on CBS' "60 Minutes," Trump said he was "very surprised" to hear about instances of hate speech.

"I am so saddened to hear that," Trump said. "And I say, 'Stop it.' If it — if it helps. I will say this, and I will say right to the cameras: Stop it."

Most of the publicly reported instances of hate speech in Maryland in the past week have come from schools. Maryland State Police spokesman Gregory Shipley said the agency has no investigations underway since last Tuesday involving hate speech, racial slurs or hate crimes.

Hate crimes have been on the rise in Maryland in recent years.

In 2015, Maryland law enforcement received reports of 203 hate or bias crimes, a 31 percent increase from the year before. Four of those cases were determined to be unfounded, 120 were deemed inconclusive and 79 were verified. In cases that were verified, arrests were made less than 15 percent of the time.

Advocates for victims of intolerant speech say some people who are targeted are reluctant to file police reports.

"Communities feel embarrassed and don't want to bring attention to themselves as an isolated group," said Yara Cheikh, president of the American Arab Club in Maryland.


Tension since the election has drawn new attention to such speech. A swastika with the message "white power" painted on an Interstate 83 exit ramp in Baltimore led to several calls to police last weekend. At least one passerby reported it to the Anti-Defamation League.

Marc Braun, a contractor and sculptor who painted over it, said a panhandler told him the symbol was the result of a turf war between two panhandlers.

On Monday, President Barack Obama said he told Trump privately that after the "bitterness and ferocity of the campaigns, ... it's really important to try to send some signals of unity and reach out to minority groups."

"And I think that's something that he will want to do, but this is all happening real fast," Obama continued. "My hope is that those impulses ultimately win out. But it's a little too early to start making judgments on that."

Hundreds of students walked out of class at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring to protest Trump's election.

Andres Perez, an 18-year-old student from El Salvador who helped organize the protest, said a stranger approached him at a Metro stop last week and gleefully announced Perez would be deported now that Trump had won.

"It wasn't really that aggressive, he was just making fun of me," he said. "But it ruined my day."

The following day, he said, customers at the restaurant where he works started chanting "build the wall" after he spoke to a co-worker in Spanish.

"It's a terrible thing, because you realize how much hate there is in people," Perez said. "It's time for people to realize that one person makes a difference, and they need to be standing up for themselves."

Baltimore Sun reporters Sarah Gantz, Tim Prudente and John Fritze contributed to this article.


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