Opinion | Surge in hate crimes requires government action at all levels

Howard Libit (courtesy)
Howard Libit (courtesy)

By Howard Libit

The FBI tells us that hate crimes have risen to their highest levels in a decade, according to the 2019 Hate Crime Statistics. The Anti-Defamation League reports that anti-Semitic and racist propaganda incidents doubled in 2020. And our own experiences tell us that we are seeing more and more incidents of hate across all communities — verbal, graffiti and worse.

No matter whose statistics you choose to look at, the data about hate bias incidents are quite clear. We are seeing a surge in hate bias incidents here in Baltimore, in our state and across our nation.

As a Jewish community that frequently experiences acts of anti-Semitism, we know we must stand with all marginalized communities that are threatened by hate. The attacks against Asian Americans are the latest urgent call to action. It is critical that elected officials at all levels of government pursue concrete actions to directly address this problem. And an important place to start is for Congress to enact the Khalid Jabara and Heather Heyer National Opposition to Hate, Assault and Threats to Equality Act (Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act).

This bipartisan measure would demonstrate that Congress prioritizes combating hate, by aiming to improve the collection of federal hate crimes statistics and then giving the Department of Justice the ability to better analyze these crimes. The NO HATE Act provides both the infrastructure and the funding for tracking hate crimes at the state and local level.

Too often, when we see hate-related statistics being reported, it includes the cautionary note that the numbers are vastly underreported. There is little to no consistency between police departments as to what gets reported as a hate bias incident, and many cities do not even gather such information, much less share it with the FBI.

It’s hard to really address a problem unless you fully understand the extent of it. The Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act would be a critical step toward improving statistical reporting, which should inform further government action to combat hate.

Here in Maryland, we know we already have the support of many members of our congressional delegation, and we call on all of them to join as co-sponsors.

We are also fortunate to have state elected leadership who have been focused on fighting hate. Attorney General Brian Frosh has had a working group of representatives from different minority and faith communities for more than two years. Gov. Larry Hogan just announced the creation of a task force focused on hate against Asian communities, led by former U.S. Attorney Robert Hur, just the latest in a number of efforts he has led during his time as governor.

And in this just-completed session of the Maryland General Assembly, several measures that we supported to fight hate were approved. For example, Sen. Shelly Hettleman and Del. Sandy Rosenberg successfully pushed for language to be included in the state budget requiring the creation of a task force to make recommendations on fighting domestic terrorism in Maryland, with a report expected by the end of the year.

Legislators approved a measure allowing judges to require an individual who is convicted of a hate crime to undergo an anti-bias education program to be developed by the University System of Maryland. It also expands the protected classes of the hate crime statute to explicitly include gender identity.

Hogan and the General Assembly also continue to provide dollars to enhance the security of our faith institutions, schools and day care centers that are at greater risk of hate crimes. With the rise in hate has come a rising need to invest in security measures, keeping our communities both safe and welcoming.

We were disappointed that the Senate failed to take action on a measure to require each county board of education to adopt a policy prohibiting the use or display of hate symbols such as a swastika or the confederate flag. However, a number of local school boards have started enacting such prohibitions on their own, ahead of the passage of a statewide law, and we will continue to advocate on this issue.

Our fight against hate is not easy, and it will require much work ahead. A key step forward is congressional passage of the Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act.

Howard Libit is the executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council.

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