The message painted crudely across the glass storm door of Horace and Jean Dickerson's Columbia home a month ago was nasty, brutish and short.
"Die nigger," it said in large white letters that had been painted in reverse so the Dickersons could read them from inside their house.
"We were horrified at it," said Horace Dickerson, who said he experienced racial discrimination growing up in the South. "Columbia being the city that it is, we didn't think that sort of thing would happen here." The family moved into their house four years ago.
Shortly after the incident, a member of a Howard County volunteer group called Network of Neighbors stopped by the Dickerson house to reassure the Columbia family that the vandal did not speak for the rest of community.
The volunteer group was formed last year following a rash of racially motivated incidents in Savage, a small, rural town in southeastern Howard. Police eventually charged four teen-agers with nearly a dozen acts of vandalism, but not before the incidents created a wave of apprehension in the community.
Since then, Network of Neighbors has grown steadily to nearly 90 members, said Gaby Suazo, the organization's chairman.
Typically, a network member will reassure the victim that the act does not represent the community's feelings, will offer to help contact other government agencies if necessary, and will generally act as a companion.
"After going through this sort of thing, it was encouraging to sit and talk with them about similar incidents," Horace Dickerson said of his experience with volunteers.
"I don't know if you ever really get over it," Dickerson said. "I don't know the kind of impact, seeing that scrawled on the window will have over the long haul. . . . But I do believe this group's efforts are worthwhile."
More than 420 hate-violence acts of all kinds were reported in Maryland last year, compared with 350 cases in 1981, said Joan Weiss, executive director of the Institute for the Prevention and Control of Violence and Extremism, a non-profit, national clearinghouse for hate-violence acts.
The state ranked third in the nation last year behind New York and California in the number of acts of antisemitism reported per capita, according to a study by the Anti-Defamation League.
State officials said the increase in Maryland may appear to be out of proportion with the rest of the country because it is the only state with a mandatory reporting system for such incidents.
A variety of factors behind the trend have been cited by experts, including a more conservative mood in the country, the nation's economic troubles and the impact of national and international events, Weiss said. Those factors "result to some degree in the condoning of intolerance and negative attitudes," she said.
In Howard County, which has about 130,000 residents, 13 incidents were reported to police last year. Four incidents, all acts of racially motivated vandalism, have been reported thus far this year, county police said.
In Montgomery County, which has a population nearly five times as large, 151 incidents were reported in 1984, Smith said. Through mid-March this year, 36 incidents have been reported, more than half of them this month, she said.
The Montgomery incidents include cross burnings, spray-painting racial or religious epithets and, recently, the distribution of anti-Catholic literature, Smith said.
The Prince George's County Human Relations Commission does not have a similar community support program. When acts of hate-violence occur, the commission dispatches a caseworker to the community to talk to the victims and to neighbors, said commission executive director William A. Welch Sr. Forty incidents were reported last year and six this year, he said.