The hideous slaying of second lieutenant Richard W. Collins III on the University of Maryland campus did more than evoke heartfelt grief and sorrow over the snuffing out of a young, hopeful, and high achieving young man’s life. It also again cast an ugly glare on the gaping double standard in how black lives matter versus those of white lives. Let’s go through the agonizing, but by now all too familiar, checklist of things that are terribly wrong with how his death has been treated. First, there’s the alleged assailant, Sean Urbanski, a young white man. The tributes to Collins had barely poured out at Bowie State University, where he was days from graduating, when Urbanski’s attorney not only pled innocence for his client, but implored the court to release him on his own recognizance, provide alcohol and drug testing counseling, and monitor him during his release by GPS.
The request was denied. Then there are the charges. He is charged with first degree murder. So far so good. However, the irrefutable fact is that Collins was African-American, and Urbanski is white. He has a documented connection with an “Alt Reich: Nation” Facebook group, and there is absolutely no evidence of any provocation on the part of Collins to precipitate the murder. Now there’s the Alt-Reich group that he belonged to. Even this has been sloughed off as just a light-hearted, silly, fun-and-games attempt by some college guys to draw attention to the group. The founder of the group was given tons of ink to make the case that spewing racism and white nationalism as the furthest thing from the minds of those associated with the group, and presumably that includes Urbanski.
Then there is Urbanski. The predictable happened. He was immediately depicted by friends and associates as a quiet, unassuming, even good-natured fellow, who couldn’t hurt a fly. All expressed shock and surprise that this seemingly good natured, all-American, clean cut good guy could commit such a dastardly crime.
That’s not a small point. The image massage of the group as a harmless fun-loving, and satirical outing on social media by some thrill-seeking college students, not to mention the glowing depiction of Urbanski, almost takes off the table the charge that he murdered Collins out of racial malice. In other words, that the murder is a hate crime and he should be charged under state or federal law as a hate crime perpetrator. The Prince George’s County Attorney expressed doubt and hesitancy about the motive. The Justice Department has been stone silent on whether it will consider a separate hate crime prosecution of Urbanski. The argument is always why bring a hate crime charge in these cases, even if there is a racial intent? The assailant is already being charged with and will be tried on a first-degree murder count.
This badly begs the question. A hate crime enhancement in racial assaults and murders is on the books as a deterrent and punishment to racially motivated assaults and murder. The failure to bring hate crimes charges sends the dangerous message that hate crimes, especially hate murders, will not be punished as racially driven hate crimes, but won’t even be called that even when there is compelling evidence they are. And the incidences of hate crimes have shown no sign of diminishing. Year in and year out, the FBI’s annual reports on hate crime violence in America report thousands of them. There are probably thousands more that aren’t reported. A murder charge and a conviction in racially motivated hate attacks and murders alone is hardly a disincentive stern enough to curb hate crimes.
There is also evidence that white nationalist, white supremacist groups and the social media ravings of kooky unhinged hate mongers hold a perverse fascination for many white students on college campuses. Since Trump’s election, a CBS report found nearly 150 incidences of racist posters and fliers on college campuses in nearly three dozen states.
But even before Trump’s election ushered in a new era of hate, intolerance, and bigotry, hardly a week went by without a report somewhere of hanging nooses, white hoods, racist graffiti, racial slurs and taunts aimed at minority students. The colleges that have been called on the carpet for the racist acts read like a who’s who of American higher education. Clemson University, Auburn, Lehigh, Tarleton State, Texas A&M, University of Texas, Austin, University of Connecticut, Johns Hopkins, Whitman College, the University of Oklahoma, U.C.L.A., U.C. San Diego, and the University of Maryland, to name only a very handful. The Harvard University Voices of Diversity project found campuses rife with subtle and not-so-subtle “microaggressions“ against minority and women students.
The final insult. The Collins slaying quickly disappeared from the headlines.
Urbanski may or may not be charged with a hate crime. But the hesitation, doubt and apparent reluctance of officials to call racial hate racial hate, even when it’s murder, tells much about the glaring double standard in how hate crimes are dealt with.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is an associate editor of New America Media. His Latest Ebook, How the Democrats Can Win Again in the Trump Era (Amazon Kindle). He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.