Contact: Aaron S. Merki FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
ELLICOTT CITY: ASSAILANT USES ANTI-GAY SLURS, STABS MAN
FreeState Legal Project Expresses Concern at County’s Decision to Not Investigate Incident as a Hate Crime
According to a report posted on ellicottcity.patch.com, on April 21, a man was allegedly attacked and stabbed in the forearm in Ellicott City. According to the report, the perpetrator “[used] slurs against homosexuals” during the attack. The assailant was charged with first-degree assault and reckless endangerment, but not with committing a hate crime.
In response to the incident, FreeState Legal Project sent a letter to the State’s Attorney’s Office requesting more information about the circumstances and the decision not to investigate it as a hate crime in spite of the use of anti-gay slurs. FreeState Legal Project does not have a relationship to anyone connected with this case, and does not possess information suggesting that authorities failed to exercise appropriate judgment when determining not to charge a hate crime. Aaron Merki, FreeState Legal Project’s Executive Director, stated: “Not every crime in which hate speech is used can properly be considered a hate crime, though use of such language constitutes strong evidence in such cases. We thought the incident in Ellicott City warranted further discussion to ensure that anti-LGBT bias isn’t going unnoticed.”
FreeState Legal Project would like to reiterate that anti-hate crime laws must be utilized and enforced. Maryland’s anti-hate crime law was expanded in 2005 to extend protections to gay and lesbian individuals. Under this law, crimes committed because of another’s sexual orientation can be considered a hate crime and awarded an additional penalty.[i] In addition, in 2009 President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act that provides similar protections to the LGBT community in Federal anti-hate crime law.[ii]
Hate crimes against members of the LGBT community are on the rise. The FBI reports that hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation were, as of 2011, the second most common hate crime committed in the United States.[iii] Law enforcement agencies reported that nearly 1,300 such sexual orientation-based hate crimes were investigated in 2011.[iv] When this number is considered in light of the size of the LGBT community, it is estimated that LGBT individuals are at least twice as likely as other minority groups to be the target of a hate crime.[v] According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, this number does not reflect the real number of crimes committed against the LGBT community. Citing Department of Justice studies, it notes that “most hate crimes are never reported to police and those that are typically not categorized as hate crimes by local jurisdictions.”[vi]
It is important for local law enforcement to investigate and charge hate crimes whenever possible. FreeState Legal Project is requesting that the Howard County Police Department and State’s Attorney ensure that they have adequately investigated the possibility that the assault in Ellicott City may constitute a hate crime, and that those parties update the general public as additional information becomes available.
Messages of hate that are either directly or indirectly leveled at the LGBT community, if allowed to go unanswered, create an environment of hostility that can leave LGBT people feeling unequal and unsafe in our society. Whether or not the incident in Ellicott City was an actual hate crime, the county should convey to LGBT people that when anti-LGBT crimes do occur, hatred toward LGBT people will be investigated and prosecuted.
FreeState Legal Project was founded in 2008 to serve the legal needs of Maryland’s low-income LGBT individuals and families. In addition to providing pro bono legal services, FreeState Legal Project works to educate the legal community about LGBT-specific legal needs and to implement wide-scale policy reform designed to protect the rights of the LGBT population.
If you would like more information about this topic, please contact FreeState Legal Project at 410.625.5428, email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the website at freestatelegal.org.
[i] Md. Code Ann., Crim. Law §10-304.
[ii] 18 U.S.C. Title 18, U.S.C., §249
[iii] “Hate Crimes Accounting: Annual Report Released.” Federal Bureau of Investigation. December 10, 2012. http://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2012/december/annual-hate-crimes-report-released/annual-hate-crimes-report-released
[v] Potok, Mark. “Anti-Gay Hate Crimes: Doing the Math.” Southern PovertyLaw Center, Winter 2010. http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/intelligence-report/browse-all-issues/2010/winter/anti-gay-hate-crimes-doing-the-math#.UYz_P7Xvte9