By Deborah Bailey
Special to the AFRO
An army of friends, Bowie State students and advocates came together to support the family of slain 2nd Lieutenant and Bowie State student Richard Collins at the Maryland State Capitol in Annapolis last week. The diverse gathering of family and friends filled House and Senate hearing rooms to capacity, in an attempt to persuade legislators to expand Maryland’s narrowly written Hate Crime Law.
“No other mother should have to feel the pain I feel daily,” Dawn Collins, Richard’s mother, told lawmakers during hearings held by the State Senate’s Judicial Proceedings Committee on Senate Bill 606.
The 2nd Lieutenant Richard Collins, III Law, named in honor of Collins, would amend current legislation to reflect the “way hate crimes really happen,” Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) Interim President and CEO Karen Baynes-Dunning told lawmakers.
Rather than requiring hate to be the “sole motivating factor” for a crime, the proposed legislation would permit an individual to be charged with a hate crime if the motivation were “in whole or part” because of the victim’s race, color, religion, sexual orientation, disability status, national origin or homeless status.
“When an individual is targeted by hate, whether in part or in whole, the effect is the same,” said Nadia Aziz, attorney, representing the Stop Hate Project of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
Current Hate Crime law in Maryland requires that an act of hate or bias against another must be the sole motivating factor leading to a crime. Advocates who spoke in support of the proposed Collins Bill emphasized that current law doesn’t recognize how racism, bias and hate work in the U.S.
“White hoods and burning crosses have been replaced with much more sophisticated means for groups to spew hate that include Facebook pages and on-line forums,” Baynes-Dunning told state lawmakers in support of expanding the scope of Hate Crime Laws. Lawmakers expressed particular interest in three organized hate groups headquartered in Maryland that Baynes-Dunning said SPLC is currently monitoring.
Sean Urbanski was convicted of first-degree murder in the stabbing death of Richard Collins in December 2019. But Circuit Court Judge Lawrence Hill threw out a hate crime charge against Urbanski, indicating prosecutors failed to prove a direct link between the stabbing attack that led to Collins’ death and the racist images found on Urbanski’s phone.
Urbanski belonged to a Facebook group known as “Alt-Reich: Nation.” Prosecutors hoped the memes saved on his phone would support their argument that Collins was attacked with a folding knife by Urbanski, while standing with a White man and an Asian woman, because he was Black. Collins was two days away from graduation the night Urbanski attacked him at a bus stop at the University of Maryland, College Park in 2017.
“This bill is necessary to recognize hate crimes for what they really are,” said Bowie State University junior Victoria Chumba.
“The death of Lt. Collins has damaged the relationship between Bowie State and UMD,” Chumba said.
“In Maryland, hate crimes have increased recently, added Natasha Harris, Criminologist and Bowie State University Associate Professor. “As a member of the BSU family, we are adamant that Lt. Collins shall not have died in vain.”
Kristen Godfrey, cousin of the fallen young man, reminded lawmakers of the role model Collins was to family and friends.
“We all grew up together. To me, he was just Richie. He was kind to everyone and had friends of all nationalities. That’s why it was gut wrenching to know the reason why he was murdered,” Godfrey said urging lawmakers to pass the hate crime legislation written in her cousin’s memory.