(February 22, 2023 / JNS) A bill passing through Maryland’s General Assembly aims to establish a permanent Commission on Hate Crime Response and Prevention at a time that antisemitism is on the rise in parts of the state, as well as nationally and internationally.
Maryland now has a hate-crimes task force funded by a temporary U.S. Department of Justice grant. The task force lacks independent funding or staff.
“We have a crisis right now in Maryland and in the country when it comes to hate crimes,” Joe Vogel, the Democratic state delegate who introduced the bill, told JNS. “We need to take a holistic look at the problem and come up with solutions that are going to really have an extensive and expansive impact on addressing this problem.”
The issue is personal to Vogel, who came to America from Uruguay as a 3-year-old with his parents.
“I’m Jewish, gay and a Latino immigrant to this country,” he told JNS. “I am bringing my perspective to this bill.”
“I’m Jewish, gay and a Latino immigrant to this country,” Joe Vogel, the Democratic state delegate who introduced the bill, told JNS. “I am bringing my perspective to this bill.”
The bill would include the assignment of a full-time assistant attorney general to the commission. If passed, starting in 2024, the commission would issue annual reports by Dec. 1. It would also recommend policies to address hate crimes in schools and make legislative recommendations to address hate crimes in state.
“Communities that are so often affected by hate crimes need to be at the center of the conversation of how we are going to respond to these acts,” said Vogel, a resident of Montgomery County, which has made headlines these past few months as a result of multiple incidents of antisemitism. “This commission will bring everyone to the table.”
‘A deep-seated problem’
Montgomery County, the southwestern part of the state adjacent to Washington, D.C., has experienced more than 25 antisemitic incidents of varying degrees and more than 40 incidents of bias crime overall since the start of 2023. Maryland had 55 antisemitic incidents in 2021, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
The bipartisan act, HB1066, currently has 52 sponsors. It has been referred to committee following a first reading.
As drafted, the commission would include representatives from the Anti-Defamation League, Jewish Community Relations Council, Council on American-Islamic Relations, Maryland Chiefs of Police Association, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Sikh Coalition, the Asian American and Pacific Islanders communities and others.
The Baltimore Jewish Council, a member of the task force, would maintain a seat at the table under the new legislation.
Howard Libit, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, told JNS that the commission would be “an important step to address our concerns,” which “will be useful in combating hate crimes and antisemitism.”
Other legislative initiatives before the general assembly include establishing a statewide Holocaust Remembrance Day and requiring age-appropriate Holocaust education in schools.
Hans von Spakovsky, manager of the Heritage Foundation’s election law-reform initiative and senior legal fellow, told JNS that one hate crime is one too many. But state laws based on the race or religion of victims or perpetrators create a tiered judicial system.
“If you commit a crime, you need to be punished regardless of who your victim is,” said von Spakovsky.
And, he added, “as much as we don’t like hate speech, the answer to that is more speech countering it and informing people of why it’s bad.”
Vogel believes that hate-crime legislation is critical to address the “really grave problem we are having right now.”
Hate crimes have become “systemic in nature, with incident after incident,” he said. “This is no longer a random, anecdotal event. It is a deep-seated problem in our state and our country.”
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