ROCKVILLE – Montgomery County Police (MCP) reported that biased-based incidents, also known as hate-based incidents, in the county dropped in 2018 by about 20 percent; however, police say it is not part of a trend.
MCP wrote in the 2018 Montgomery County Police Bias-Based Incident Report that people reported 93 bias-based incidents in 2018, a dip from 123 in 2017.
Similar to 2017, race and religion were the top two motivators of bias-based incidents, according to the 2018 Montgomery County Police Bias-Based Incident Report.
Race was the motivating factor in 39 bias-based incidents in 2018. Religion was the motivator with the second highest number of bias-based incidents, at 37. “Sexual orientation accounted for 12 incidents. Gender bias was the motivating factor for seven incidents, compared with one incident reported in 2017,” according to the report.
Police followed up on 53 “subjects,” or individuals associated with, reported incidents, the same number as in 2017, and then made more arrests in 2018. MCP spokesperson Capt. Tom Jordan said that change in arrests do not mean the number of incidents changed or suggest a trend in incidents.
“We’re pleased that the incidents have decreased; we still remain vigilant, we still increase our community engagement, and we hope to continue to see the numbers trending downward,” said Jordan.
Jordan said police might find more than one “subject,” or individual, connected to a single incident, which may affect the number of cases of bias that MCP follows up on.
Bias-based incidents are not limited to criminal acts, MCP wrote. The department records when people report hate-based behaviors because in the past, bias-based incidents have been followed by bias-based crimes. The possible crimes could deeply and negatively impact people who live and work in the county.
“Residents in Montgomery County are encouraged to report all incidents, including non-criminal events, that may single out someone because of that person’s perceived race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, physical handicap or homelessness,” according to the report.
Incidents biased against religion were mainly anti-Jewish in 2018, similar to 2017.
According to “The 2017 Greater Washington, DC Jewish Community Demographic Study,” published by the Brandeis University Steinhardt Social Research Institute, the number of county residents who are Jewish is approximately 10 percent of the population. However, according to the MCP report,75.7 percent (28 incidents) of incidents that were biased against religion were anti-Jewish.
Police reported four anti-Islamic incidents in 2018 and 11 anti-Islamic incidents in 2017.
The Rev. Imam Faizul Khan of the Islamic Society of Washington Area, a Mosque located in Gaithersburg, said he hopes the number of bias-based incidents continues to decrease. He knows bias is more of an issue in other places of worship besides his.
“Whether targeted against Muslims, Christians or Jews, we’d like to see it definitely go down to zero,” Khan said. “But that’s an effort we have to make — and we have to be very vigilant and make sure that these things don’t occur.”
Khan said he feels safe in the county as his Mosque received few hate-based incidents last year, including someone repeatedly putting garbage in his Mosque’s mailbox. The issue stopped after his Mosque installed a camera nearby.
Biased-based behavior occurs occasionally in Montgomery County Public Schools, Khan said. Some of those incidents, he said, are bullying and not hate incidents because they are directed toward an individual person.
County resident Byronn Johns, who has been involved in Parent Teacher Associations in Montgomery County Public Schools, disagreed with Khan. He said he believes biased- based incidents in schools are hate speech.
Johns said he believes that many hate-based incidents have gone unreported. He is a parent advisor to the NAACP but said during an interview he was answering questions only for himself, and not the association. During the past two years, the NAACP in Montgomery County has received an increasing number of complaints from community members and residents to report incidents of hate speech and hate-based incidents, including instances in schools.
“Call it bullying, but at the end of the day it’s hate speech,” Johns said.
In one incident reported to the NAACP, Johns said, students were “calling a little kid because he’s Muslim or he’s brown-skinned – calling him all sorts of names, (saying) that he needed to get (out), wouldn’t play with him.”
The family of the child contacted the NAACP in Montgomery County with their concerns, Johns said. The NAACP contacted MCPS and worked the situation out with central office staff.
Johns attributed the increased biased-based incidents to the speech of President Donald Trump. Johns said he does not feel safer in the county compared to two years ago, because, based on calls to the NAACP, he believes that hate-based incidents are increasing.
“The last six to 12 months, it’s definitely a very noticeable uptick (in calls to the NAACP),” Johns said April 23.
In one instance that gained media attention this year, students at more than one MCPS school reportedly distributed passes for students to say the “n-word.”
Johns said students are “just emulating what they see as normalized behavior in the White House.”
Residents of minority demographics may hesitate to report bias-based incidents, Johns said.
“I don’t want to paint too broad a brush, but it can be a difficult relationship (with police) for all sorts of reasons,” Johns added.
Johns mentioned the shooting of the unarmed black man, Robert White, by a county police officer in Silver Spring in 2018.
The prosecutor’s response to and MCP’s internal handling of White’s death have sparked outcry by many Silver Spring residents and brought concern by the Montgomery County Council.
“(Reporting) somebody who they think looks out of place in their neighborhood — that’s not typical of black communities,” Johns said, recalling White’s death. “They don’t see a white guy walking down the street, go ‘I’m going to call the police; they’re out of place.’”
Now-retired MCP Chief Tom Manger said the number of bias- based incidents attributed to people ages 18 and under decreased in 2018 compared to 2017, based on the number of incidents reported to police by MCPS. They occurred mostly in high schools, followed by middle schools and a couple in elementary schools.