Black Marylanders most often targeted by hate crimes and bias incidents in 2021

By Jon Meltzer

Hate crimes and incidents of bias in Maryland victimized Black residents more than any other identity group in the state in 2021, according to data published by Maryland State Police (MSP).

The annual Hate Bias Report, a joint effort of MSP and the Maryland Coordination & Analysis Center, recorded 61 verified incidents or crimes with an anti-Black or African-American bias, more than all other identity groups combined.

This demonstrates a 20% increase in anti-Black or African-American crime since the year prior, in spite of a 9% decrease in overall hate crimes and bias incidents across the state in the same timeframe. MSP reported a total of 101 verified incidents across the state in 2021.

“We get kind of complacent in thinking that these racialized incidents don’t happen in our state,” said Jason Nichols, a senior lecturer in African-American studies at the University of Maryland. “‘That’s for Kentucky. That’s for Alabama.’ And we need to own the fact that we have racialized issues here in Maryland.”

This comes on the heels of a report released by the FBI in March that showed an 11% rise in hate crimes nationwide between 2020 and 2021 – with incidents targeting individuals of Asian descent increasing by 167% in that time period. In Maryland, incidents targeting those of Asian heritage remained nearly the same, with three verified in 2020 and four in 2021.

Maryland’s most common verified incidents of hate crimes or biases after anti-Black in 2021 were anti-gay male (11 verified incidents), anti-Jewish (six incidents), anti-Asian (four), anti-white and anti-Hispanic/Latino (three each).

Three-quarters of the incidents verified by Maryland law enforcement in 2021 were verbal or written intimidation, vandalism, or “other hate bias incidents,” according to the MSP report. While there were verified incidents of bias-motivated assault, most were “simple” assaults, i.e. did not involve weapons or involve serious injury to the victim.

Baltimore County saw the most bias-motivated, verified incidents of any Maryland jurisdiction by far, with 55 in 2021. Harford County, the runner-up, reported 13 verified incidents.

When asked about Baltimore County’s hate crime rate, Trae Corbin, a public information officer for Baltimore County Police, said that the department was reviewing the FBI supplemental report, and cautioned that “numbers are subject to change as bias cases under investigation could be reclassified.” He also encouraged all residents to report any crime motivated by hate to the police department.

Nichols sees Baltimore County’s elevated rates as the manifestation of historical injustice in the county. “You had a lot of white flight” in the latter half of the 20th century from Baltimore City to the county, he said, and even though Baltimore County is now solidly blue, a small subsection still may harbor significant prejudices.

The way in which data is collected can affect the way hate crime rates are reported to the public by different authorities. For example, pursuant to Maryland Code, Public Safety § 2-307, MSP tallies both hate crimes and incidents of bias, while the data collected by the FBI only counts the former. Thus, while the MSP’s report detailed a total of 388 incidents in 2021 in Maryland, the FBI only tallied 167 offenses.

A 2020 report by the Maryland Attorney General defines a bias incident as an “activity motivated by bias [that] does not meet the definition of a crime under State or federal law,” such as “the distribution of written materials promoting white nationalism and the use of racial or homophobic slurs.” Individuals cannot be arrested or prosecuted by law enforcement for bias incidents.

The progression of investigations into possible hate crimes and bias incidents can also affect reported hate crime rates. MSP has three possible classifications for all 388 incidents in its report: verified (motivated in whole or in part by bias), unfounded (definitively not motivated by bias), or unfounded (evidence conflicting, incomplete and thus unable to be classified as verified).

Most of the bias-motivated incidents in Maryland end up in the third, inconclusive category. While there were 101 verified hate incidents and crimes in the state in 2021, there were another 272 reports that were written up as “inconclusive.”

“The standard is really high to reach ‘hate crime,’” Nichols said.