Amid a rise in hate incidents throughout Montgomery County, local government and religious leaders gathered Monday to promote $800,000 in grants to help prevent such incidents from recurring—but acknowledged that much more work remains.
County Executive Marc Elrich, alongside Luke Hodgson—director of the county’s office of emergency management and homeland security, which provided the grants—and officials from several houses of worship and religious organizations called on residents throughout Montgomery County to speak out when they witness incidents of hate throughout the community. County police and government officials have the responsibility to investigate and prevent such acts, but community members also need to stamp out hate, wherever that is, they said.
The $800,000 in grants was awarded to 91 facilities—either religious institutions or community nonprofits, officials said Monday. The funds can be used for buying or updating security cameras or hiring security personnel to protect their facilities.
Multiple nonprofit and religious leaders spoke of recent hate incidents, from Pride flags being torn down to intruders entering their facilities and intimidating attendees through hate speech. They were:
- Ron Halber, Jewish Community Relations Council executive director. Halber spoke broadly about the rise in antisemitism. He noted that in a recent assault of a Jewish resident at a Giant supermarket, the alleged attackers referenced Kanye West, the musical artist who has made antisemitic comments.
- Ayelet “Ellie” Lichtash, Alef Bet Montessori executive director. Lichtash said her school has been targeted in recent years, including an intruder who made antisemitic remarks in January 2019.
- Tho Tran, founder and executive director, Vietnamese Americans Services Inc. Tran said her facility has seen anti-Asian hate crimes in the past few years.
- Arif Mustofa, president, IMAAM Center (A Muslim place of worship). Intruders have made threats to visitors in recent months, and security camera footage was not able to identify those responsible.
- Ravir Singh Floura, chairman, Guru Nanak Foundation of America (A place of worship for Sikhs). Floura said hundreds, if not thousands, of people visit their facility and the money they received will help with security footage.
- Sandra Frazier, vice chair of Trustee Ministry, The People’s Community Baptist Church. Frazier said some visitors have reported potential cases of trespassing in recent months and years.
- The Rev. Samuel C. Giese, St. Jane Frances de Chantal Catholic Church. His church was the site of arson and vandalism last summer.
- Rev. William E. Green, lead pastor, Silver Spring United Methodist Church. Green said the church has seen vandalism and its Pride flags torn and tattered recently.
In recent weeks, there have been multiple instances of swastikas drawn at public schools, flyers deposited in Kensington, and a Pride flag vandalized at a church.
Kate Chance, the county’s faith community liaison in its office of Community Partnerships, said Monday that the $800,000 in grants is an increase from $700,000 awarded last year to 61 organizations. This year, 108 applicants applied for $2.3 million in funds.
Hodgson said that 55% of applicants were victimized by hate crimes, whether through vandalism, arson, intimidation or other incidents. The grants ranged from $1,500 to $14,000, and were awarded based on need and after the applications were reviewed by multiple county officials
Elrich said that although the grants are useful, Monday’s news briefing was an indication that hate incidents continue to be an issue. And the money will not “get to the root cause of it,” and only stop if residents confront such incidents and dialogue head-on in their community.
Marc Yamada, assistant Montgomery County police chief, said that the Police Department remains committed to investigating hate incidents when they occur. Yamada added that the department helps religious institutions and nonprofits through active shooter training, and its special operations department conducts walkthrough safety assessments.
But Yamada and others admitted that the spike in hate incidents is alarming. Elrich said that part of the solution is that public schools need to have an honest conversation about social attitudes and what might be causing these incidents.
In an interview, Hodgson said that the acceptance of such hate on social media, combined with some elected officials using such rhetoric, has likely led to the rise in such incidents. And one of the difficulties is that—in a trend that mirrors the rest of the country—these hate incidents remain underreported, he said.
Federal, state and regional partners in the homeland security field are working together in “fusion centers” to investigate where on the Internet these thoughts may be originating, and how they are emerging into the mainstream, Hodgson said.
That work isn’t as effective, however, unless county residents continue to report such activity to the police, the county’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, or other officials, he added.
“What we need is to continue to get that intelligence … and again, a lot of that intelligence comes from your average citizen, who raises their hand, and says, ‘I noticed a problem. I saw something suspicious’ … I’m not sure enough people are doing that,” Hodgson said.
“It’s not inconsistent with history that people do not report [that activity], either because they think someone else has reported it, or they question whether it rises to the level of a crime,” Hodgson said. “I’m not sure if it’s fear of retaliation as an assumption that someone else is handling that.”
County Council President Evan Glass (D-At-large) said in a separate news briefing on Monday that he and colleagues were looking at establishing an anti-hate task force, consisting of elected officials and other community partners. Glass said more information on the task force would be announced in the coming weeks.
“What I propose is that an anti-hate taskforce be convened, where we have members of our broad and diverse community, who come together and identify strategies to combat hate and ways to invest in safety and security, and doing everything we can to make our diverse community feel welcome,” Glass said.