Maryland General Assembly Considers Permanent Body to Tackle Hate Crimes

Maryland State House in Annapolis. Credit: Martin Falbisoner via Wikimedia Commons.

Faygie Holt | 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,” said Joe Vogel, the Democratic state delegate who introduced the bill. “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.”
Joe Vogel: Courtesy Del. Joe Vogel (D-Dist. 17)

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 said. “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’

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, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, 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.

Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, said his agency “fully supports this effort. It will play an effective role in combating antisemitism and hate and we look forward to seeing it implemented.”

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, said 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.” ■

Never miss a story.
Sign up for our newsletter.
Email Address


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here