Guest Commentary: Md. Must Fund Security for Schools at Risk of Hate Crimes
By Ron Halber and Maury Litwack
Bias crimes, both nationally and regionally, continue to grow exponentially. The police chiefs of Washington, D.C., Montgomery County and Fairfax County have all pointed to a dramatic increase in bias crimes in general, and specifically against the Jewish community.
In Maryland, The Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville received a bomb threat. A student at Winston Churchill High School in Potomac who was studying the Holocaust received an anti-Semitic text. A swastika was painted on a sign at the Jewish Museum of Maryland in Baltimore. A note was left in the mailbox at the Islamic Education Society of Maryland offering money to anyone “who slaughtered Muslims” and depicted two individuals with arrows piercing their hearts. A wooden cross was set afire at the Al-Huda School in College Park.
The list goes on and on, continuing an upward trend that began in 2016. While all faith communities are vulnerable, the FBI, in its annual hate crimes report for 2016, said that for the 20th consecutive year, anti-Jewish hate crimes accounted for the majority of all religious bias crimes reported in the United States and that Muslim bias crimes had increased as well.
Synagogues, churches, mosques, religious centers, cemeteries and other nonprofits have been the targets of incitement to violence and subjected to arson, shootings, attempted bombing, death threats, robbery, vandalism, anti-Semitic graffiti, assault and intimidation. The Anti-Defamation League, in its most recent Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents, found that from Jan. 1 to Sept. 30 of 2017, 1,299 anti-Semitic incidents had taken place across the United States, including physical assaults, vandalism and attacks on Jewish institutions. In 2016, Montgomery County saw 38 incidents of bias that were motivated toward religion; 32 incidents were directed at the Jewish community.
That’s why we at the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Orthodox Union, along with many of our faith partners, particularly in the Muslim community, in the 2017 state legislative session lobbied for the creation of the Maryland State Grant Program for Schools and Child Care Centers at Risk of Hate Crimes or Attacks, which would provide funding for both capital and operating money for security.
The measure passed unanimously in the House; the Senate approved it 41-1. With the program, Maryland became the fifth state in the nation to establish a grant to provide funds for private schools and day care centers. Maryland’s program, which is authorized but not yet funded, can provide dollars to help pay for security personnel.
Our religious institutions, including schools that are easily identifiable, are vulnerable to attack. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recommends protective measures that include access controls, barriers, monitoring, surveillance and other physical target hardening and preparedness investments, such as planning and training. Since 2005, the federal government has provided tens of millions in resources to bolster the physical security of at-risk nonprofits, including institutions located in Montgomery County and Baltimore, but the DHS program caps grants at $75,000. Other states and localities, such as Montgomery County, New Jersey, Ohio and New York, have provided funding to enhance the physical security of at-risk nonprofits, recognizing that states and local governments have a role. Some jurisdictions also are providing resources for operational costs including security guards.
Now it’s time for the Maryland state government to shoulder its responsibility as well, especially to ease the operating costs for security personnel. Montgomery County Jewish institutions collectively spend hundreds of thousands of additional dollars for security personnel, presenting a huge burden for these nonprofit educational facilities that should focus their limited resources on education. Nonprofits schools and day care facilities run by Jews, Muslim and other groups considered vulnerable to hate crimes and attacks require this government assistance, both for capital and personnel, to protect their institutions.
It’s up to Gov. Larry Hogan and the Maryland General Assembly to provide these funds for this statewide program. Two million dollars, which is almost a rounding error in a budget of about $40 billion, is a minor state financial investment but will have a tremendous positive impact on these institutions. In early 2017, for example, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a $25 million grant program to boost safety and security in New York’s schools and day care centers at risk because of their ideology, beliefs or missions.
Hate crimes can have a devastating effect on children. Gov. Hogan and the Maryland General Assembly can ease the burden on the schools and day care centers and help keep our children safer by providing $2 million for this program this upcoming legislative session.
Ron Halber is executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington. Maury Litwack is director of state political affairs for the Orthodox Union.