In a county that prides itself on a population drawn from 170 countries, the hate incidents of 2016 came as a shock. As the year drew to a close, swastikas were drawn igniting concerns and forcing action by county institutions.
None of the incidents have resulted in arrests, police said recently, though the cases remain under investigation.
“Detectives have very little information and few leads, if any, to go on with the open cases and are still asking for anybody with information to come forward,” Montgomery County police Officer Rick Goodale said.
In some incidents, the hate images were scrawled on the walls of elementary and middle school bathrooms. In others, church signs were defaced. Vandals used a “caustic substance” to burn a swastika into the grass of an athletic field. Spray paint was used on school signs and on a homeowner’s door.
Montgomery County Public Schools spokesman Derek Turner said only one school case resulted in punishment. That case occurred earlier this month when someone put a “Whites Only” sign on a restroom door at Winston Churchill High School in Potomac. According to a report in The Washington Post, students found the sign and “posted it to see how people would react.” Turner would not describe the punishment that students received.
An incident at Silver Spring’s Sligo Creek Elementary School, originally described as racial slurs scratched on a wall, was actually just an act of vandalism, according to a letter that went home to parents.
“The investigation revealed that the message, which was scratched into the wall and not written on as originally believed, consisted of the text ‘Kill Kill B.’ It was concluded that while there is evidence of the crime of vandalism, there is no evidence to show that it was a hate crime, or biased based,” wrote Matthew A. Devan, MCPS director of school support and improvement.
The spate of hate graffiti prompted the County Council on Nov. 15 to issue a resolution condemning the incidents. County Executive Ike Leggett hosted a rally in downtown Silver Spring on Nov. 20 that drew more than 1,000 people to reaffirm the county’s values of diversity, inclusion and respect for all.
Efforts to determine the reasons behind the hate incidents have sparked some debate. Some, like state Sen. Cheryl Kagan (D-Rockville), blame the rhetoric from President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign.
In an address at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville on Dec. 16, Gov. Larry Hogan looked at the issue more broadly.
“I think there’s a lot of frustration and anger out there in the country, and we need to figure out a way to bring everyone together,” the Republican governor said.
Two weeks before, Kagan had engaged in a Twitter war of words with Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford. Kagan tweeted her shock that Rutherford had said at a meeting in Potomac the night before that he was perplexed by recent increase in hate crimes in the United States. In his tweet reply, Rutherford said hate is not new and he’d “rather people show their real colors than hide.”
A timeline for hate incidents:
April 27: Swastikas spray-painted at Welsh Park on Mannakee Street and at Beall Elementary School in Rockville. A witness told police he saw two teenage boys spray-painting swastikas in a wooded area near the school, but police were not able to locate the suspects.
Oct. 28: Someone used a “caustic substance” to create a swastika on the grass of the Quince Orchard High School football field in Gaithersburg. A vehicle was captured by surveillance video.
Oct. 31: Swastikas and other inappropriate images were spray-painted on banners, sidewalks and telephone poles at Burning Tree Elementary School in Bethesda.
Nov. 11: Multiple swastikas were drawn in a boys bathroom at Westland Middle School in Bethesda.
Nov. 11: A “Black Lives Matter” sign at Christ Congregational Church in Silver Spring was vandalized on election night.
Nov. 12: The phrase “Trump Nation, Whites Only” was written at the Episcopal Church of Our Savior at 1700 Powder Mill Road, Silver Spring, on a sign advertising the church's Hispanic service, and on a wall in the church's memorial garden that serves as a cemetery.
Nov. 17: Montgomery County Police Chief Tom Manger appeared in a video saying that so far in 2016, police have seen a 17 percent increase in hate crimes and bias incidents.
Nov. 21: A swastika was spray-painted on the front door of a Trump supporter, which police investigated as a possible case of “hate-biased” vandalism. The homeowner also reported an American flag he had hanging from a tree in yard, had also been stolen.
Dec. 9: A “derogatory, racial statement” was written on the wall of a restroom at Woodlin Elementary School in Silver Spring near third-grade classrooms.
Dec. 22: Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Jack Smith condemned hate in holiday message.