In the wake of the fatal stabbing of, Richard Collins III, a Black student on the College Park campus of the University of Maryland, by an alleged White supremacist, confusion has grown over the legal classification of the murder as a ‘hate crime’. While to many communities of color across the nation the attack clearly constituted racial bias, FBI agents must now determine if Collins’ death meets the legal criteria for a hate crime prosecution.
The importance of proper prosecution, according to legal analyst Danny Cevallos, lies not only in securing additional prison time for those who commit crimes against others based on their race (gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc.), but also that a clear message resonates among subversive groups that their activities will be fully prosecuted.
Sean Ubranski, the University of Maryland student who allegedly murdered Collins, can be seen on surveillance footage approaching Collins near an on-campus bus stop, where he told the victim to “step left.” When Collins refused, Urbanski allegedly stabbed Collins. He is currently being held without bond while awaiting trial. University of Maryland Police Chief David Mitchell said Urbanski “had been drinking” and that he did not believe race played a role in the crime.
“In a hate crime, the victim is targeted because of his characteristics. These are bias-motivated crimes, and often they are much more violent than traditional crimes,” Cevallos told CNN. “Typically, in criminal law, motive is not an element of a criminal offense.”
Cevallos said law enforcement must prove that racial or religious hatred factored into the motive for the crime.
For UMD students, many of whom said they have experienced a recent increase in bias or prejudice on campus, the FBI investigation, seems only to dismiss their voices on the need for active anti-hate protocols on race, diversity, and safety on campus.
“The administration cannot govern everyone’s consciousness, but a murder committed by a student who embraces White supremacist ideology, suggests it could have been any student of color Ubranski killed that night,” UMD junior Makhi Ellis told the AFRO. “It seems logical to charge the guy with committing a hate crime, and even though I understand there are logistics the legal community has to explore, it feels like no one wants him to pay harshly for the crime.”
Ellis is not alone. Several students, including members of on-campus diversity groups such as “ProtectUMD,” according to WTOP, have called on UMD administration to do more to combat hate and promote diversity and safety on campus.
“I don’t want to say for certain that this particular incident could’ve been avoided, but I think that the sentiments underlying the attack could have better been addressed if the University stopped using its diverse image as an excuse to not address how students of color are able to exist in spaces that aren’t always the most inclusive,” UMD senior government and politics and philosophy double major Katelyn Turner told the AFRO in a text message. “Looking diverse isn’t enough. We need to protect the students that allow this campus to call itself diverse.”
Hate crimes, according to the FBI, are “criminal offenses against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.” It notes that hate itself is not a crime and that their investigations must be mindful of protecting freedom of speech and other civil liberties.
The FBI continues to investigate Collins’ murder as a possible hate crime.