ANNAPOLIS — Dawn Collins offered a simple message for Maryland lawmakers mulling proposed hate crime legislation: “Don’t let another mother feel the pain that I feel daily.”
Collins and her husband Rick spoke at a press conference and gave emotional testimony Tuesday in Annapolis about the death of their son, 2nd Lt. Richard W. Collins III, who was killed by a white man at the University of Maryland in College Park in 2017.
Collins, 23, who received a commission in the Army, was visiting a friend at the school just days before his own graduation from Bowie State University when he was fatally stabbed.
In December, a judge ruled prosecutors didn’t have enough evidence to prove the suspect, former University of Maryland student Sean Urbanski, killed Collins simply because of his race. The current statute forces a prosecutor to prove a hate crime occurred as the sole motivating factor.
However, a jury found Urbanski, 24, guilty of murder. He is scheduled to be sentenced June 4.
Meanwhile, the nearly two-page legislation named after Collins seeks to charge and prosecute a person “motivated either in whole or in part by another person’s or group’s race, color, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, gender, disability, or national origin, or because another person or group is homeless.”
Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy, elected as the jurisdiction’s top prosecutor in 2018, led the effort to strengthen the hate crime statute with legislation in both the House of Delegates and Senate.
“This young man motivated my office, my prosecutors and our community to do what’s right,” she said. “That’s why we’re here … to do what’s right.”
The bills are sponsored by Sen. Joanne C. Benson (D-District 24) of Landover and Del. C.T. Wilson (D-Charles County).
“I refuse to believe that my country is this bad,” said Wilson, who also served in the Army. “I refuse to let Mr. Richard Collins III die in vain.”
Besides the Collins family, various advocates and nonprofit organizations also spoke in favor of the bill.
Meredith Weisel, senior associate regional director of the Anit-Defamation League (ADL) in Northwest said Maryland’s current statute “gives hate crime offenders an easy defense.”
In written testimony before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, ADL pointed out that states such as California, Tennessee and Wisconsin define hate crimes as an offense committed “in whole or in part.”
Karen Baynes-Dunning, interim president of the Southern Poverty Law Center of Montgomery, Alabama, said hate groups in Maryland have decreased, but violence acts and other crimes increased. The group plans to release its annual nationwide “hate map” report in about a month.
“It’s time for us to act. There are way more of us, than there are of those who spouts hate,” said Baynes-Dunning, a native of Montgomery County, Maryland, who flew up Alabama to testify on the legislation. “We are honored to stand here with the Collins family with their courage and their persistence to make sure that none of us ever forgets the name of 2nd Lt. Richard Collins III.”