The Baltimore Jewish Council is pushing hard for the passage of several state bills aimed at protecting Marylanders from hate crimes and symbols of hatred.
As part of BJC’s Maryland Jewish Advocacy Day 2021, the group is publicly supporting the passage of House Bill 418, Senate Bill 220/House Bill 128, Senate Bill 864/House Bill 1227 and House Bill 452.
HB 418 would require each county board of education to establish a policy prohibiting the use or display of hate symbols including swastikas and the Confederate flag, according to the BJC website. HB 418 came into being after a number of students at a Maryland school became uncomfortable over the presence of hate symbols carried by other students on their persons or as bumper stickers on their vehicles, said BJC Deputy Director Sarah Mersky Miicke. As the school did not have an official policy regarding such symbols, the students contacted their local delegate, Michele Jenkins Guyton, who began advocating for the passage of legislation that would require such a policy.
Under SB 220/HB 128, a person convicted of a hate crime could be required to attend an anti-bias education program that would be developed by the Board of Regents of the University System of Maryland, according to the BJC website. The bill would also explicitly include gender-related identity or expression as a protected class under the hate crime statute. An amended version of this bill has already been passed by the Maryland Senate and is currently being looked over by a House of Delegates committee, said Mersky Miicke.
SB 864/HB 1227 would create the Task Force on Preventing and Countering Domestic Terrorism, which would be charged with studying how the state of Maryland can counter domestic terrorism, hate and other types of extremism, according to the BJC website. The task force would then formulate policy recommendations to be presented to the governor and the General Assembly.
HB 452, among other things, codifies a section of common law that allows a victim of a hate crime to take civil action against the perpetrators of that crime, Mersky Miicke said.
While the BJC remains hopeful regarding the passage of these legislative bills, Mersky Miicke stressed that legislation can only be expected to accomplish so much.
“A new law is not going to change the fact that there is a lot of hate in our country,” Mersky Miicke said, “as evidenced from the riots in the Capitol, as evidenced from mounting amounts of swastikas and nooses found throughout schools and public property in our state.”
At the same time, Mersky Miicke views education as playing a crucial role in protecting vulnerable communities.
“Education is paramount to change,” she said. “And that is also a huge focus of the BJC, and we have worked with the … superintendent [Karen B.] Salmon to actually make changes in our Holocaust education for our public school students, specifically looking at the reasons behind the Holocaust and other acts of genocide.
“So that kind of gets to the how [of how] these things happen, the rise in hate,” she continued. “And hopefully these educational tools will help students, but it’s up to everyone, and education really is the key to make true change in society.”