Anne Arundel civil rights leaders met with the county state's attorney last week to discuss what they fear is an upward trend in local hate crimes.
Law enforcement officials say that given the uncertainties of hate crime investigation, it's hard to tell whether such incidents are on the upswing. Nonetheless, civic leaders say that the latest incidents seem unusually hostile, and that they are unaccustomed to seeing so much activity in such a short time.
Several racial incidents in recent weeks have drawn the attention of local leaders: a cross left in the yard of a black family in Ferndale, a racist message scratched into the paint of a black family's car in Hanover and a wave of racist fliers.
"This is some of the most offensive literature I've seen," said Carl O. Snowden, an aide to County Executive Janet S. Owens. "It's always been racist, it's always been anti-Semitic, but if you look at this literature, it's intentionally provocative."
County police reported 29 crimes motivated by bias, particularly racial bias, so far this year, on pace with the 66 reported in all of 2004.
It's hard to say whether the number of hate crimes is rising or falling, because definitive FBI data exist only through 2003. The FBI, which tends to drop many locally reported incidents from its final tally, reported 20 hate crimes in all of the county for 2003, 10 for 2002 and eight for 2001. The large majority of incidents were racial in nature.
Snowden, who has kept a log of racial incidents in the county for the past three decades, speculates that the latest wave of racial incidents is tied to the controversy surrounding the July 2004 death of Noah Jamahl Jones, 17, a black high school student killed during a fight at a house party in Pasadena. A jury recently acquitted one of six white men accused in the fatal beating.
Snowden, a civil rights activist and NAACP member, helped organize last week's meeting with State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee as a response to the Jones case and its aftermath.
But county police say they can only guess whether the racial incidents reported in recent weeks relate to Jones's death.
The fliers, for example, mostly play on two themes: black men preying on white women, and a Jewish power structure that encourages "racial mixing" and thwarts white men. One flier asks, "Hey, white man . . . . Just what is it gonna take to get you to fight back?"
The fliers don't mention the Jones case directly, although they touch on the racial issue that pervaded it: the prosecution of white men for the death of a black man.
Snowden and police say the fliers look like the work of the National Alliance, a West Virginia group with an office listed in Baltimore that has claimed responsibility for earlier pamphlets. Shaun Walker, the group's chairman, confirmed that the group has distributed literature recently in the Annapolis area but said he did not know the specific origins of the fliers collected by police this spring.
Racist literature began appearing at homes around Pasadena in November. More fliers appeared in May, in Davidsonville. On May 20, a wooden cross was found on the lawn of a black family in Ferndale, not far from where Jones died. On May 30, a Hanover family found a racial epithet carved into the paint of a car.
News leaked in June of a racially motivated fight in January at Meade High School that resulted in injuries to a white student and the unsuccessful prosecution of one of several black students allegedly involved in the altercation. School system leaders are investigating the handling of that incident by school Principal Joan Valentine, who, according to Weathersbee, refused to cooperate fully with prosecutors until ordered to do so by a judicial master.
As a result of June 28 meeting at the chief prosecutor's office, community leaders may hold a series of town hall meetings to discuss hate crimes with the public, Snowden said.
Weathersbee said he hopes to persuade county residents to report hate crimes as they occur because identifying and catching those responsible can be difficult. Of the 66 incidents reported by the county police in 2004, for example, only nine led to criminal prosecution.