Hate in Maryland: From racist taunts to swastikas to a campus stabbing, bias reports up sharply in state

Students at Crofton Middle School find a noose hanging in the courtyard.

In Montgomery County, a 13-year-old Jewish girl receives several anti-Semitic texts. They say, in part, “JNTD” — an acronym for Jews Need to Die.

A gay man at Baltimore’s Gilmor Homes is beaten by a man yelling homophobic slurs.

Army 2nd Lt. Richard Collins III, a black college student from Calvert County, is confronted and stabbed to death on the University of Maryland campus, allegedly by a white student from Severn who was a member of a racist Facebook group.

Reports of hate are on the rise in Maryland.

Maryland law enforcement agencies received 398 reports of hate or bias last year — alleged incidents that ranged from vandalism and intimidation to threats and attacks, according to the State Police and hundreds of pages of records reviewed by The Baltimore Sun after a public information request. The reported incidents represented an increase of 35 percent from 2016 — and a pace of more than one report a day.

Authorities couldn’t confirm all those reports, and concluded that a handful were unfounded. But many experts believe the reports don’t begin to capture all the incidents.

The state’s experience echoes a national increase in reported hate crimes, reversing a long, gradual decline. Maryland broadly requires the reporting of incidents against someone due to race, religion, and other characteristics. The FBI collects information from states only on crimes motivated by hate or bias.

Summary: The Baltimore Sun investigated two years of hate incident reports in Maryland. Here's what we found »

‘Hate is on the rise’

The number of hate crimes reported to the FBI rose to 6,121 in 2016, the last year for which national numbers are available, up 5 percent from 2015. Hate crimes reported to police in the 10 largest U.S. cities rose 13 percent last year, according to researchers at California State University, San Bernardino.

“Every indicator is that hate is on the rise over the last two to three years," said Doron Ezickson, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, which has tracked anti-Semitic incidents since 1979.

While some of that increase likely is due to expanded reporting, Ezickson said, “the growing activity and presence of white supremacist propaganda and rhetoric in the public square could also be motivating factors.”

Brian Levin, who directs the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State, has studied hate crimes for three decades. He cites the increasing diversity of the U.S. population, the spread of white nationalism, and decreasing trust in institutions as some of the factors contributing to the increase in reported incidents. And, he says, social media provide a ready platform to spread hateful views.

“We are a more splintered society entrenched in our polarization,” Levin said.

The increases coincide with the 2016 presidential election campaign and the widening division that has riven the nation.

“There is no escaping that the tone and tenor of the 2016 national election helped to usher us into where we’re at now,” said Alvin Gillard, executive director of the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights. “History has taught us: When that language becomes accepted parlance, it often moves from language to action.”

The Baltimore Sun built a database from the nearly 700 incident reports collected by the Maryland State Police from local police departments in the last two years.

In 2017, state or local police “verified” 46 percent of such complaints, meaning the incidents were determined to have been motivated by hate or bias.

Most — 52 percent — were classified as “inconclusive;” police could not determine whether the incidents were based on hate. That was often because authorities weren’t able to identify suspects.

“When we don’t know the perpetrator, we don’t know the motivation,” said Paul Dillon, chief of the University of Maryland Baltimore County Police Department.

Police forward only verified reports to the FBI, so more than half of the incidents reported to police in Maryland never made it to federal hate crime totals.

Some agencies, including Howard County police, marked more than eight of every 10 reported incidents inconclusive.

Statewide, 2 percent were ruled unfounded — that is, police determined they did not happen or were not motivated by hate.

‘Chronic’ underreporting

Gillard has spoken out against “chronic” underreporting, which he says can occur when victims do not report to police or police do not properly record the incidents.

His commission, which reviews the incidents, has repeatedly questioned the lack of reports in certain corners of the state.

“It’s been a challenge to make the reporting a priority,” Gillard said. “For many, it’s not.”

Eighty percent of the state’s 161 law enforcement agencies reported no hate incidents in the last two years. Kent and Caroline counties haven’t reported any hate or bias incidents over the last six years.

Nationally, Justice Department officials say there likely were far more incidents than the 6,121 tallied by the FBI for 2016. The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated more than 200,000 hate crimes the year before.

Only a small percentage of the reports in Maryland in 2017 led to arrests. Smaller percentages led to prosecutions, convictions and sentences. In most cases, police were unable to identify suspects.

In that way, the case of Dartanyan Johnson was typical.

Johnson, a 47-year-old black man from Middle River, told Baltimore County police he was walking to his job there in February 2017 when three white men in a pickup truck began following him.

He said the men shouted racial slurs and threw a bottle at him. One man shouted, “You should be hanging from a tree,” he said.

Officers investigated, but did not find any suspects. Johnson told The Sun that he now varies his route to and from work, sometimes walking several extra blocks.

African-Americans were the most frequent targets of alleged hate in Maryland in 2017. They were identified as victims in nearly half the reports, a phenomenon long observed in the state. Second were Jews, identified in a fifth of reports.

The numbers do not include two of the most notorious incidents involving Marylanders last year, because they happened in other states.

Richard W. Preston Jr., a Ku Klux Klan leader from Baltimore, was captured on cellphone video pointing a gun at a black man at the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., in August 2017 and then firing into the ground.

Preston, 53, pleaded no contest in a Virginia court to a charge of discharging a weapon within 1,000 feet of a school. He was sentenced to four years in prison.

James Harris Jackson, a Friends School graduate and former Army intelligence analyst, is accused of stabbing a black man to death with a sword in New York in March 2017. Police say he regarded the attack on 66-year-old Timothy Caughman in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan as “practice prior to going to Times Square to kill additional black men.”

Jackson, 30, now awaits trial in New York on charges of first- and second-degree murder as an act of terrorism and second-degree murder as a hate crime.

The numbers do include the attack on Collins, the newly commissioned Army officer who was days away from graduating from Bowie State University when he was stabbed to death at a bus stop in College Park in May 2017.

University of Maryland student Sean Urbanski, who police say was a member of the now-deleted Facebook group “Alt-Reich Nation,” was charged with first-degree murder. Prosecutors have since added a charge of hate crime resulting in death.

Under state law, a hate crime charge can add up to three years and a $5,000 fine to a misdemeanor crime such as trespass or vandalism, and up to 20 years and $20,000 to a felony such as murder.

Those who work with the data warn of its limitations. They say it’s unclear whether the increases reflect a rise in the number of actual incidents, a growing willingness of victims to report or – as many believe – some combination of the two.

Still, Maryland’s numbers are among the best available. The state was one of the first to require local police to send reports of hate or bias to a central authority.

The 1981 law is broad: It requires police to report not only alleged crimes, but also any incidents seemingly directed against an individual or group because of race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, gender, gender identity or homelessness.

As a result, the State Police count many more incidents than the FBI, which counts only alleged crimes. “If every state did as well as Maryland, we’d be in a much better place,” Levin said.

‘Go back to Africa’

The most common form of hate or bias incident collected by State Police in 2017 was vandalism, identified in a third of the reports.

In January, a 53-year-old black woman who lives near BWI Marshall Airport found her car egged and a letter at her front door with a KKK symbol and a warning: "Go back to Africa, next time it wont [sic] be eggs on your car, blackie."

Also that month, “Kill the Jews,” other anti-Semitic messages and racial slurs were found spray painted in the restroom and on the sidewalk of a park near Loch Raven Reservoir in Baltimore County.

In September, a black woman who lives near Halethorpe found “KKK” painted on her front door. In March and December, black men found “KKK” keyed into their cars in Harford County.

And in December, “We hate [N-word]s,” “No [N-word]s better be here come Thursday” and a drawing of a hanging figure were found in a bathroom stall at Loyola Blakefield, the Catholic prep school for boys in Towson.

Swastikas and the N-word were the most common hate-based graffiti. There were more than 70 swastikas and more than 130 “N-words” in the reports to police in 2017.

After vandalism, written and verbal intimidation were the most common forms of hate or bias reported in 2017. They each accounted for about a fifth of the reports.

Three black garbage removal workers told Anne Arundel County Police in June of last year that they had found racist messages on garbage bags left at one home on multiple occasions. Examples: “black boy food,” “No [N-word]s needed” and “Nathan Bedford Forest [sic] forever.”

Nathan Bedford Forrest was the slave-trading Confederate general accused in a notorious slaughter of mostly black Union prisoners of war who became the first leader of the Ku Klux Klan.

Police say officers warned the resident, an 85-year-old white man, and put him in contact with mental health counselors.

A 13-year-old girl was told by a boy at a middle school in Edgewater it would be fun to shoot her and her family because they were Muslim, and she should pull her shirt up to her eyes because that is the way Muslims dress. (The girl was not, in fact, Muslim.)

Assaults

More than 60 hate-related assaults were reported in 2017. That was up about 25 percent from the year before.

Among the incidents confirmed by police:

A 15-year-old transgender girl was chased in Frederick County by a juvenile throwing rocks. A 32-year-old black man in Anne Arundel County was called the N-word and assaulted by a 55-year-old white man posing as an off-duty police officer and telling the man to move his car.

A 29-year-old black woman in Prince George’s County was assaulted by a 53-year-old black man because she was talking to a white person and he didn’t want her to have white friends. A 38-year-old man of Arab descent was assaulted in Montgomery County and told to “go back to your country” and that “I will kill you right now.”

In Pasadena, two black teenagers were riding their bikes in November when a white man drove by, shot blank rounds from his handgun at them, called them the N-word and told them to get out of his neighborhood.

Not all of the incidents collected by Maryland State Police are crimes. It’s not illegal, for example, to leave hateful propaganda in a home or on a campus. But police say such incidents are important to track.

“It may not be a crime for me to receive a Klan flier in my mailbox, but it is unacceptable,” said University of Maryland Police Chief David Mitchell, a former state police superintendent. “The absence of war is not peace.”

‘Kool Kids KIan’

Educators and law enforcement leaders are particularly concerned by the growth of reports at or around schools. They made up a third of the incidents reported to police in 2017, up about 60 percent from 2016.

In January, officials at Arundel High School in Gambrills found a petition from the “Kool Kids Klan” soliciting students to join and promote the “supreme White race.”

At Crofton Middle School, which is racially diverse, students arrived on the morning of May 11, 2017, to find a noose hanging from a lighting fixture in a courtyard off the sixth-grade wing.

Then-principal Nuria E. Williams, who is black, testified in the trial of one of two young men convicted in the case that she felt the school was targeted because of the color of her skin.

“I have been incredibly proud of the way our students, staff, and community have come together to denounce hate and declare clearly and proudly that discrimination in any form has no place in our community,” Williams wrote in an email to The Sun.

At the University of Maryland Baltimore County, Jewish professors found their office doors defiled with anti-Semitic graffiti. In a separate incident, someone sent a note with a swastika and several obscenities to the former president of the Jewish student group Hillel, the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors.

“This really upset me, because I am very proudly Jewish,” said Dana Kobrin, the student. “That symbol represents so much hate and discrimination. … It’s not a symbol that should be shared for any reason.”

Beyond the Maryland State Police data, The Sun reviewed reports of bullying, harassment or intimidation related to race, sexual orientation or disability in Maryland public schools. These reports provide another window into hate. They increased from about 470 during the 2015-16 school year to about 650 in 2016-17 — a jump of almost 40 percent.

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Local districts are required to report such incidents to the State Department of Education. Jonathan Brice, an associate superintendent in the Montgomery County Public Schools, says reports are up in part because students are more educated about hate and bias, and more sensitive to bullying.

But another factor, he said, is the “tenor of the time.”

“There are, unfortunately, a number of young people who exhibit behavior somewhat similar [to what] they’ve seen adults exhibit in political discourse,” Brice said.

April Lewis is executive director of school safety in Baltimore County. In the three months after the 2016 presidential election, she received 42 reports of hate-related bullying and harassment, the most she has seen in a three-month period.

They included eight fights among middle schoolers reported to be related to the election. A boy who repeated President Donald J. Trump’s remarks about grabbing women’s genitalia. A white elementary school student who shouted to non-white classmates that “Trump won! White people rule!” And the most common: More than a dozen Hispanic or black children told that they would be deported, or shipped to other countries.

Lewis said schools responded to the reports on a case-by-case basis, providing counseling and in some cases, reporting to police.

In the State Police data, there were more than 50 reports statewide over two years of individuals telling others to get out of the neighborhood or country based on how they looked.

A spike after the election

Levin, of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, says presidential elections typically cause spikes in reports. The difference with 2016, he said, is that the election seems to have served as a sort of catalyst. Reports have continued to climb.

Montgomery County Police Chief J. Thomas Manger agrees.

“Right after the 2016 election, we saw a spike in hate crime,” he said. “I’m not blaming Trump or Clinton supporters. We just saw a lot of really anti-immigrant things.

“That vitriol that we all live with today both in the county and around the nation is worse than I can recall in more than 20 years of being a police chief.”

Some say Trump has emboldened those motivated by hate. In the speech announcing his candidacy in 2015, he called undocumented Mexican immigrants criminals and rapists. He campaigned on promises to ban Muslims from entering the country. He said the Mexican heritage of a federal judge presiding over a lawsuit against him constituted a conflict of interest.

As president, Trump has retweeted white supremacists, and said some of those who marched at Charlottesville were “very fine people.” The targets of his rhetorical attacks are often people of color: He has focused the anger of his base on African-American athletes who kneel during the national anthem in protest of police brutality, called basketball player LeBron James and CNN host Don Lemon dumb, and said former aide Omarosa Manigault Newman was a “lowlife” and a “dog.”

Gillard, of the state civil rights commission, said the language of the Trump campaign promoted “hate and separation.”

Some Republicans say President Barack Obama, the nation’s first black president, was the divisive one. They cite Obama’s remarks on Henry Louis Gates, the black Harvard law professor who was arrested by a white police officer in 2009 while trying to enter his home; Trayvon Martin, the Florida teen who was confronted and shot to death in 2012 by a neighborhood watch volunteer, and Michael Brown, the teen who was shot to death in 2014 by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo.

Reports of hate crimes across the country and hate incidents in Maryland declined through the Obama administration until 2015. Then they started to climb, and have continued ever since.

Trump, or language referring to him, was mentioned in 15 reported incidents in Maryland in 2016 and 2017. No other candidate was mentioned.

Days after the election, for example, a 24-year-old black woman at an Abingdon gym found a note on her car that said, “[N-word]s not welcomed here! Go back to Africa Bitch! You better watch your back!! Trump 2016. Make America WHITE AGAIN!”

“People haven’t developed new sentiments,” said the Rev. Stephen Tillett, president of the Anne Arundel County chapter of the NAACP. But because of Trump, he argues, “they certainly feel more liberated to express themselves.”

The 55 hate incidents reported to police in Maryland during November 2016 were more than any in a single month in at least the previous decade, and more than the previous four Novembers combined.

Brian Griffiths, a conservative radio network host and blogger for Red Maryland, said Trump “has not done enough to repudiate hate.”

Groups like Alt-Reich Nation, Griffiths said, “were residing in the dark corners of the Internet until the Trump campaign.”

Neither the White House nor the Trump campaign responded to requests for comment for this article.

Gary Collins, who led the Trump campaign in Baltimore, said hate groups are misinterpreting Trump’s words.

“The President has been clear time and again for denouncing hate,” he said. He said the country needs to make progress against hate, but “it occurs on both sides.”

“My own personal experience is that I was physically assaulted when I was fixing Trump signs,” he said.

Collins was assaulted while he was wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat at Towson University on Nov. 1, 2016. He said a woman cursed at him, spat on him, put him in a choke-hold and stole his cellphone.

Aeesha Deen Kamara, 23, of Parkville, pleaded guilty to second-degree assault.

Collins said bottles of urine were thrown at him at Trump’s inauguration in Washington, and he has found screws drilled into the tires of his car in Baltimore.

He said “the left” is provoking intolerance.

“I think people are upset because they lost the election,” he said. “They banked on the fact that Hillary Clinton was going to win by a landslide, and then she didn’t.”

Just five reports from city

People who work with the numbers say reporting is uneven.

The Montgomery County Police Department led the state in 2017 with 97 reports. Baltimore County police were second with 75 reports; Anne Arundel County police were third with 61.

The Baltimore Police Department reported five incidents in 2017. Howard County Police, who serve a population about half the size of Baltimore, reported 43 incidents.

Gillard said counties that report more incidents can be incorrectly identified as having more hate, when it might be that “they just did a better job at reporting.”

He called Baltimore’s numbers “hard to believe.”

“If incidents are not reported, we have to respect the number for what it is,” he said. “But at same time, common sense appraisal in any jurisdiction is that there would be an incident from time to time. That is the reality of fabric of our nation.”

The numbers missed dozens of incidents because investigating officers did not initially report them as hate to Maryland State Police.

Silas Price III, a 55-year-old black man from Anne Arundel County, told police he was idled at a stop light in Glen Burnie last August when a woman called him a racial slur and threw a beer on him. He called 911, but county police did not charge the woman.

Price said an officer told him there are three sides to every story: “Her side, your side, somewhere in the middle.”

Police advised Price that he could file a criminal complaint himself with the district court commissioner, and he did. Felicia A. Hartman was convicted of second-degree assault and sentenced to a year of probation. A hate crime charge was suspended.

“Can you imagine a black man throwing a beer into a white woman’s car?” Price asked. “I would be toast.”

After an inquiry by The Sun, Anne Arundel police opened an internal investigation into why police did not charge the woman. Lt. Ryan Frashure said the department does not disclose the results of internal investigations.

Underreporting nationwide is one reason the journalism nonprofit ProPublica initiated the “Documenting Hate” project.

The Sun partnered with more than 150 newsrooms across the country in the project to call for tips to supplement government data. The database now contains 5,000 tips, including more than 100 from Maryland.

They include the account of Henriette Taylor, whose daughter is Jewish and African-American. The day after the 2016 election, Taylor said, two classmates at her daughter’s Montgomery County middle school taunted her: “What will you do when they put you in a camp?”

“This didn't happen in a red state,” Taylor wrote in the ProPublica records. “This wasn't in the rust belt or rural America. This happened in an extremely liberal Maryland suburb of D.C. Was it a joke, kids being kids? Whatever it was, now she's afraid of what she'll hear next.”

The incident doesn’t appear in police records, and the school district said it was unable to talk about it. Taylor told The Sun the school’s principal sent a helpful letter to parents about it, and one of the boys wrote a letter of apology.

Few hate crime convictions

Hate crime convictions are rare. Of the 398 reports in 2017, police identified suspects in 170 cases. Prosecutors filed hate crime charges in 28 cases. They won convictions in three.

“Proving what is in someone’s head ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ is challenging,” Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney Wes Adams said. “It’s the additional layer of proving whatever crime committed was committed with the intent of doing it against a group or person.”

The early morning attack on Collins at the University of Maryland was captured on surveillance video. Police say it shows Urbanski emerging from a cluster of trees, telling Collins to step out of his way and then stabbing him in the chest.

Police arrested Urbanski at the scene and recovered a folding knife. Within hours, police had identified him as a member of Alt-Reich Nation.

Urbanski was charged with murder. He was not initially charged with a hate crime. Five months later, after local and federal authorities joined in the investigation, Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Angela D. Alsobrooks added the charge.

Urbanski has not entered a plea. His trial is scheduled to begin in January.

Del. Sandy Rosenberg sponsored Maryland’s original hate crime legislation in 1988.

“We hoped it would deter people from committing such acts,” the Baltimore Democrat said. Whether it has worked, he said, is “impossible to know.”

Longtime civil rights activist Carl Snowden, head of the Caucus of African American Leaders, thinks not.

“Very few people are prosecuted for hate crimes,” he said. “Too often, it’s the ‘boys will be boys’ attitude, and treated like pranks and not crimes.”

The Baltimore Sun is partnering with newsrooms around the country in a ProPublica-led project to collect recent and reliable data on hate crimes in the United States. If you have been the victim of a hate crime, please use this form to contribute to this database.

crentz@baltsun.com

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