Maryland’s Office of the Attorney General brought together community stakeholders to provide strategic guidance on preventing hate crimes and engaging communities.
When individuals and communities are subject to hate crimes and bias events, the need for assistance to build solutions that defend communities and prevent future incidents is an urgent concern.
With expert support from the Maryland Office of the Attorney General (OAG), crime victims across Maryland have the backing they need—and the hope that hate crimes in the state can be eradicated.
The Maryland OAG engaged in a multi-year initiative to address the increasing number of hate crimes and bias incidents across the state. A critical part of this initiative was realized through funding from the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) Collaborative Approaches toward Preventing and Addressing Hate Crime – Demonstration Projects grant program.
Reducing and eliminating hate crime is a focus for Maryland OAG leadership. “Upon taking office, I made a commitment to improving public safety and that responding to and preventing hate crimes would be a top priority in the Office of the Attorney General,” says Maryland Attorney General Anthony Brown.
“Armed with this grant, we now have the resources to create the tools to assist our communities, including our law enforcement partners, in defending against a rising tide of hate crimes and hate bias incidents.” — Maryland Attorney General Anthony Brown
Laying the Groundwork
In 2016, the Maryland OAG launched a hate crimes hotline—a resource that allows crime victims to report a hate crime to the Maryland OAG and be connected with their local law enforcement agency. Staff in the Attorney General’s office also built an informal coalition of stakeholders from organizations engaged in combating hate crime to help inform next steps.
As hate crime activity persisted in Maryland, “we invited human rights advocacy groups and law enforcement to talk to us about what they saw as the key issues and how the OAG could best address hate crime,” says Zenita Wickham Hurley, Chief, Office of Equity, Policy, and Engagement, Maryland Office of the Attorney General. “What we learned in those early meetings was that there were a lot of inconsistencies in how jurisdictions reported hate crimes, concerns about relationships with law enforcement, and confusion about what a hate crime was.”
That’s when the team came across the BJA grant program, which specifically supports these types of collaborations, says Wickham Hurley.
Building on the Foundation
The Maryland OAG secured a three-year grant from BJA to enhance community-based partnership by creating a Hate Crimes Task Force composed of law enforcement agencies, civil rights groups, and community-based organizations. The grant also supports the Maryland OAG’s work to develop a statewide hate crime reporting web portal, conduct regional hate crime summits, and train law enforcement officers and prosecutors to recognize and respond appropriately to hate crimes. With BJA’s support, the OAG Hate Crimes Task Force developed into an influential body for combating hate crime in the state. In May 2023, the Maryland General Assembly passed House Bill (HB) 1066 to make the task force a permanent entity that was renamed the Maryland Commission on Hate Crime Response and Prevention. The commission offers Marylanders a long-term mechanism to address hate crimes by evaluating hate crime laws and policies and developing strategies to address the crimes.
“Getting HB 1066 passed and signed into law was a key success,” says Tifffany Dayemo, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Equity, Policy, and Engagement, Maryland Office of the Attorney General. The law codifies the commission and officially recognizes the partnerships and stakeholder engagement from the organizations that are now represented, she adds.
In August 2023, Attorney General Brown appointed 20 stakeholders to the commission from a cross-section of law enforcement agencies, state and local institutions, and organizations representing communities targeted by hate crimes.
Hiring is under way for a full-time Maryland Assistant Attorney General who will be dedicated to working with commission members and handling Maryland OAG’s response to hate crime activity. HB 1066 mandates state funding for the position after BJA grant funding ends in fiscal year 2024. Maryland OAG is also in the process of developing an online hate crime and bias incident reporting portal for the state.
Forums Bring Issues Forward
Maryland OAG launched a series of Regional Hate Bias Reporting Forums, hosted by Attorney General Brown, with support from the BJA grant. The goal is to engage local law enforcement representatives, elected officials, and community leaders in discussions and information sharing to facilitate more effective reporting and response to bias incidents and hate crimes.
The first forum took place this spring in western Maryland, and two additional forums are scheduled for fall 2023. The first day of each forum is focused completely on law enforcement to provide training in hate crime and bias incident recognition and reporting. The emphasis is on engaging law enforcement to help them create solutions that encourage victims to communicate hate and bias concerns, according to Dayemo.
On the second day, the forums are open to the community. “The feedback we get from forum sessions is incredibly helpful,” Dayemo says. For instance, at the first forum, the commission learned that it needed to increase representation of Marylanders with disabilities on the commission. The commission also includes unhoused individuals as an additional stakeholder group in response to input at the forum.
The Maryland OAG’s approach to addressing hate crimes through collaborative, strategic action is a model that can be replicated by OAGs in other states. Collaborating with counterparts in other states doing similar work is also valuable, says Dayemo, and can help push new strategies forward.
“I would strongly encourage my colleagues in other states to begin by reaching out to other stakeholders,” says Wickham Hurley. While the idea of putting together a group of stakeholders who can assist in this work can seem intimidating, the rewards are considerable. “What we learned over the years is that there is a lot of interest and a lot of engagement from our local partners, and you need all those voices and perspectives at the table” to be successful, she adds.
Begin by bringing on groups most targeted by hate activity, since those stakeholders are often already actively working on these issues. Then identify organizations that participate in the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes, advises Wickham Hurley. “Just start, and the community will let you know who else is missing.”
At the Maryland Commission on Hate Crime Response and Prevention’s inaugural meeting in September, the group outlined how to increase supportive services for hate-targeted groups and looked at additional initiatives focused on cyber bullying and hate activity in online gaming, reports Wickham Hurley.
“There was such excitement in the room that we could stand this commission up in a formal way,” Wickham Hurley says. The assembled stakeholder organizations “saw that state elected officials were committed and interested in their ideas and wanted to work together to address hate activity that can really make people feel unsafe, disrespected, and fearful.”
“Now that we are standing up the commission and convening the regional forums, we will sharpen our focus on my office’s efforts to prosecute hate crimes,” says Attorney General Brown. “The grant was critical in our ability to bring the right people to the table to develop the actionable plans to tackle the problems we face.”
Note: In addition to receiving Collaborative Approaches toward Preventing and Addressing Hate Crime funds from BJA, the Maryland Office of the Attorney General has also received funds through BJA's Emmett Till Cold Case Investigations and Prosecution Program to help support efforts to investigate cold case murders associated with civil rights violations.
- BJA FY 2021 Collaborative Approaches toward Preventing and Addressing Hate Crime – Demonstration Projects solicitation
- Maryland Office of the Attorney General’s Hate Crimes Task Force grant award
- Maryland Office of the Attorney General’s Hate Crimes webpage
- Maryland Office of the Attorney General’s press release on the Maryland Commission on Hate Crime Response and Prevention
- Maryland hate crime statistics