Martin: Racist graffiti qualifies as hate crime

Huntingtown areas hit by vandals

Friday, April 16, 2010

Graffiti using racially derogatory words was spray-painted on an entrance sign of a Huntingtown subdivision last week and the Calvert County State's Attorney's Office can consider the act a hate crime.

Floyd Freeland, developer of the subdivision Howe's Promise, said he saw the large spray-painted words on the sign last Monday morning that used an expletive and racial epithet.

"It's a bad thing, I'll tell you," said Freeland, who lives in the subdivision and worked for two days trying to get the words off by using acid and pressure washing the stone and brick sign worth about $20,000.

"A lot of people have stopped by and just shook their heads," he said.

While Calvert County State's Attorney Laura Martin (R) said she had not seen the police report, after a reporter relayed the expletive and the racial epithet, she said it would qualify as a hate crime because of the word used.

"It is also highly offensive. It's clearly aimed at African-Americans," she said, adding, it's clearly a hate crime.

According to the Maryland statutes under the section of hate crimes, harassment or destruction of property because of race, color, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, gender, disability, national origin or homelessness is against the law. Defacing, damaging or destroying real or personal property of a person in the categories listed or attempting to do the same falls under the statute. If convicted of this type of property hate crime, a person could be sentenced to a maximum of three years in prison, a $5,000 fine, or both.

President of the Calvert County NAACP Joyce Freeland said, "We're really disappointed that in 2010 — and we have an African-American president — that these types of things are still going on.

"We consider this a hate crime," she said, calling it appalling.

Joyce Freeland recalled a similar hate crime incident reported on Sept. 7, 2009, where someone sprayed ‘"KKK" on a subdivision sign in Owings.

According to the Calvert County Sheriff's Office report of the incident, along with spray-painting of the Howe's Promise sign, the Oakmont Manor development sign was damaged, as well as the pavement of the roads at the intersections of Dartmoor Drive and Mill Branch Drive and Kings Landing Road and Huntingtown Road. Witnesses in the area who were interviewed for the report cited that the spray painting was noticed in the morning hours between 6 and 7 a.m. on April 5, but there were no witnesses to the incident, and the destruction of property report for the other incidents does not state whether the spray painting was of a racial connotation.

Calvert County Sheriff Mike Evans (R) said normally deputies will write down in their reports if the graffiti is of a racial nature. Evans said he was aware of the racial comments on the Howe's Promise sign and of some obscene drawings on the roads.

Because of the racist nature of the some of the words, Evans said he called in investigators from the Southern Maryland Information Center, created to investigate gang related crimes, but he said, "It doesn't seem to be gang related."

"We're putting some feelers out. Hopefully, someone will speak up," Evans said.

According to Martin, who wrote in an e-mail, "We have not had the occasion to charge someone under [Maryland hate crime laws]. The reason for this is not that hate crimes do not occur; but — unfortunately — because the types of crimes we see in Calvert (vandalism, destruction of property, etc.) occur at a time when there are no witnesses, the police are unable to make an arrest [thus, we are unable to prosecute]. Hopefully, that will not be the case in this instance."

Floyd Freeland, who purchased the 30 acres from family members in 2004, said his grandfather, Sewell Howe, a tobacco farmer, bought 100 acres in 1917 for $2,500. Some of the property was sold off over the years, but when Freeland heard that the final 30 acres were being sold, he decided to purchase the property and create a subdivision and moved onto the property because of the family history of the land.

"He worked all his life here," Freeland said of his grandfather, and the land was special to him.

Six homes have been built in the subdivision and six more home lots are approved by the county. He said it is normally a quiet community, but Freeland said last year, someone tore up the lawn on an open space of the subdivision using car tires.

"It's so sad that it has to be like that. I hope they get caught," Freeland said.