The Baltimore Jewish Council had a busy day in Annapolis on Tuesday, Feb. 20, as representatives, along with partners from the NAACP, testified in favor of two bills that would expand the definition of what constitutes a hate crime.
The bill heard on Feb. 20, Senate Bill 671, is the companion bill to Del. Sandy Rosenberg’s (D-District 41) House Bill 246, Hate Crimes – Threats and Penalties. The House bill was heard on Jan. 30. Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D-District 11) is the sponor of the Senate bill.
“The bill includes threats and attempts of hate crimes as part of hate crimes code,” said Sarah Mersky, director of government relations for the Baltimore Jewish Council.
Mersky added that the nationwide bombs threats to Jewish institutions in 2017, which targeted three Maryland JCCs and the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Montgomery County, could not have been charged as hate crimes under current law even if an individual was found guilty of perpetrating the threats.
The bill also includes a component in which, at the judge’s discretion, people who are convicted of hate crimes can be mandated to take educational courses or perform community service in the community of the person they inflicted the hate crime against.
“The community of the victim benefits from the work they’d do,” said Rosenberg. “Hopefully, it would change the mind of the person convicted and give them a different viewpoint and mindset regarding the victims and people like them.”
Also heard on Tuesday was HB 700, introduced by Del. Charles E. Sydnor III (D-District 44B), another hate crime bill that would allow for groups of people, rather than a singular person, to be considered the victims of hate crimes.
“I hope that we will appropriately broaden our law this session,” said Rosenberg.
Mersky said neither bill has seen any opposition, and mentioned the rich history between the Jewish and African- American communities.
“BJC’s founders marched in Alabama with Martin Luther King,” she said. “Jewish and African-American people, over the years, have been totally interlinked. We’re both working on the hate crimes issues because it affects both of our communities.”