By Talia Dennis
Community members should take a step back, rather than impulsively respond to hate incidents, said the two speakers during a March 8 forum hosted by the School of Public Policy.
The Norman and Florence Brody Family Foundation Public Policy Forum held a discussion on how to respond to hate and bias, with this university’s police chief and the regional director of the Anti-Defamation League as speakers.
“Hate is not new and hate is not going away anytime soon,” Chief of Police David Mitchell said.
Reported hate incidents went up in the state and nationally after the election, he said. He explained aspects about Maryland and federal laws that make it difficult to charge someone with a hate crime.
“Drawing a swastika on a bulletin board, in and of itself, is not unlawful,” he said, but defacing property is a crime. “So the hate crime statute in Maryland, starts with a crime … it can’t be chalk on the sidewalk.”
A violation of the state’s hate crime statute and a guilty verdict for a misdemeanor offense carries the maximum penalty of three years in prison and a $5,000 fine, according to a Maryland General Assembly policy. Felony convictions resulting in death and violate the hate crime statute can carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $20,000 fine, whereas no death is a maximum of 10 years and a $10,000 fine, according to the assembly’s policy.
Mitchell described hate crimes as “sentence enhancers,” meaning the conviction of a hate crime is “tacked onto the initial sentence [misdemeanor or felony].”
“In 2017, we had 27 [hate] incidents [on campus],” he said, further explaining that the acts were about 60-40 against African-American and Jewish communities respectively. There were incidents against Latinx and LGBTQIA+ communities as well, but mostly it is one of the two former groups.
Mitchell said even if a hate-bias incident does not constitute a crime on campus, police will “investigate it, and investigate it immediately.” They can refer a student who committed an incident that is not criminal misconduct to the Office of Student Conduct, he said.
A recent ADL report found that between the fall of 2016 and the fall of 2017 semesters, there were over 346 incidents of the distribution of white supremacist propaganda on college campuses in America, across more than 200 campuses in 44 states, Doron Ezickson, ADL regional director, said.
“We saw, year to year, almost a 260 percent increase in activity,” he said. “Now, this is just flyering.”
Universities across the country make perfect targets for hate groups like Identity Evropa because higher-education schools represent everything the groups hate, like progressivism, Ezickson said.
Hate groups are sophisticated because they know the reaction of the students, he said.
“When you hang a Klu Klux Klan or a Neo-Nazi flyer in the middle of campus … the campus erupts often times,” he said.
Students demand action immediately and look to blame someone, usually the administration, he said.
He said he understands students feel angry and threatened after these incidents, but they often end up having a “deconstructive dialogue” or “pointing fingers, rather than taking a step back and reflecting on ‘How do we move forward with this?’”
Ezickson described incidents on campus as having “megaphone quality” because they will reach parents, families and alumni.
“They cannot get more bang for their hateful buck than on campus,” he said.
Also, college students are forming their political and adult identities, which makes it an ideal time to recruit members for these hate groups, he said.
Ezickson and Mitchell both mentioned the First Amendment, but Ezickson explained it in greater detail.
“The First Amendment, here in America, does protect hate speech in public forum,” Ezickson said. “[It] does not apply to the internet. The internet is a private platform.”
Signing up for platforms like Instagram or Twitter, you accept their standards of conduct and those standards include what type of language and images you are and are not allowed to use, he said.
Ian Sloan, who graduated from this university in 2016 with a degree in criminology and criminal justice, was friends with 2nd Lt. Richard Collins III, an African-American, Bowie State University student who was stabbed to death on this campus last spring, according to police.
He said he thought the best thing that could be added to the discussion was to “just sit back and listen.”
“We have a concern as human beings to be sometimes impulsive, sometimes subjective and it’s not a bad thing, it’s just instincts at times,” he said. “But sometimes being objective, to be able to pace out and understand what is the best action to something is also the best way to improve ourselves and also improve others around us.”
Following Collins’ death, Sloan said he became a liaison between his friends, who also went to high school with Collins, and the ongoings at this university.
He said his friends didn’t understand why the suspect was not immediately charged with a hate crime. He said he knew it required patience because he worked in the legal system.
The former white student accused of stabbing Collins is charged with first-degree murder and hate crime and his trial is scheduled for the summer, Mitchell said.
Ezickson said people have forgotten how to be in a conversation because they do not remember how to listen before speaking.
“We don’t talk to one another anymore, across disagreements,” he said. “We don’t even talk at one another. We live increasingly, outside of the university context, in isolated communities.”
He went on to discuss an instance when former President Barack Obama was campaigning in 2008 and said to dismiss people who “cling to their guns or religion,” which Ezickson found troubling because those are two rights protected in the Constitution.
Dismissing groups of people based on their beliefs or priorities before having a conversation is impossible, he said.
“The best right we have in an American democracy is the right to disagree,” Ezickson said, acknowledging it is not located in the Bill of Rights.
He said he believes most of the people in the country, who are of “good will,” fall between extremism on the right and absolutism on the left.
“I think it’s important to be intentional about these conversations,” Kathryn Allred, a Brody scholar and public policy graduate student, said. “I think so many times, especially as a white person, I hear uncomfortable things or bad things … and it’s important for me to be intentional in those conversations and say, ‘Hey look, it’s not okay that you said that and here’s why. Can we talk about it?’”
The talk began on a bittersweet note because Florence Brody, an alumnus and namesake for the forum, died earlier in the day, said Dr. Betty Duke, who introduced the talk.
Brody was a champion for women — it was also International Women’s Day — and other groups she believed did not get a “fair deal,” Duke said.
Before it was opened to the audience for questions and comments, the discussion ended on an optimistic and hopeful note.
Mitchell explained he finds strength from his colleagues and their resilience.
“We as a campus need to go about and maintain our resilience and say, ‘I understand that there are people in the world like this … I am not going to accept it,’” he said. “Insults are only effective if you accept them.”
Ezickson said he’s hopeful because of the young people he sees who have realized tolerance cannot be legislated, democracy cannot tend to itself, and laws regarding conduct are necessary but cannot fix everything.
“I see an awakening of young people to the value of our democracy,” he said. “It’s not just leaders who lead right now, in a time like this. Every citizen has to lead.”
The biggest takeaways from this forum is to reflect before responding to hate and bias, have a real conversation with others, even if there’s disagreement, and say something if you see something.
Featured Photo Credit: School of Public Policy Dean Dr. Robert Orr (left) moderates a discussion about responding to hate and bias between Chief of Police David Mitchell (center) and Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League Doron Ezickson (right) March 8. (Talia Dennis/Bloc Reporter)
Talia is a sophomore journalism major and history major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.