2016 | Schools

County Officials Say Hate Crimes Are Wake-Up Call

Leggett says county police won't help enforce federal immigration laws

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Council member Craig Rice says he has to explain racial slurs and swastikas to his young daughters.

Douglas Tallman

Montgomery County Council member Craig Rice, the council's only African-American member, said Tuesday the result of the recent spate of hate crimes in the county means he has to explain to his young daughters the meaning of racial slurs or what a phrase like “whites only” means.

His girls didn’t even know what a swastika is, Rice said, speaking at a press conference Tuesday about a council resolution denouncing bigotry and hate crimes.

“We were blessed with a community that didn’t have those things at the forefront, but they were there," he said of the recent incidents. "What we need to do is make sure that we stamp them out with vigilance just like we’ve done to fight for the equality and rights of everyone.” 

Many in the county, where a third of its residents are immigrants, had thought of Montgomery as a bastion of inclusivity. In the days since the 2016 election of President-elect Donald Trump, the county has had a series of incidents that included swastikas drawn on walls at Bethesda and Silver Spring schools, and the defacing of signs at two churches in Silver Spring, leading the council to adopt a resolution denouncing bigotry and hate crimes and to hold a press conference to reinforce the idea that the county is a welcoming place for all.

The press conference, also attended by County Executive Ike Leggett, called to discuss the resolution. The resolution, which called the county a “citadel of justice,” said the council rejects bigotry, homophobia, anti-Semitism and xenophobia. And it says the county’s 311 system will have instructions on how to report and deal with hate crimes.

The resolution restates the county’s long-held position that its police department would not help enforce federal immigration laws, a position that could threaten federal financial support. Trump has said his administration would not provide financial support to so-called sanctuary cities.

“If it means a loss of dollars, we’ll have to analyze that very carefully,” Leggett said. “But this is not a question of dollars and cents at this point in time, this is about doing what is right. So from my perspective, if I’m faced with the choice of having to lose some federal dollars and run the risk to having our citizens treated in an undignified way, disrespected, to be hauled off to jail, and separated [from their] families, I’ll have to lose the dollars.”

Council Vice President Roger Berliner said Trump succeeded by dividing the nation and by creating fear.

“Our nation’s politics is broken in part because we don’t respect one another enough, don’t understand one another enough, don’t listen to one another enough, don’t see or experience our common humanity enough. We focus instead on the differences,” Berliner said.

Speaking to an audience of about 60 members of the media as well as other interested onlookers at the press conference, Leggett announced the county was working with the faith community to plan an event Sunday in Silver Spring so community members can express the intent of the council’s resolution.

Leggett spokesman Pat Lacefield said the event would start at 2:30 p.m. and take place either inside the Silver Spring Civic Building or on Veterans Plaza, depending on the weather. The lineup of speakers had not been chosen yet.

The council has passed similar resolutions, the most recent in January. Those, however, focused on federal deportation threats against county residents.

After the press conference, Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, said Trump must state repeatedly he has no room in his administration for anti-Semitic, white supremacist bigots.

“There is no limit to the number of times he must say it,” Halber said.

Jeffrey Thames, president of the nonprofit Hope Restored, which focuses on reducing recidivism by connecting people with services, attended the press conference. Afterward, he said he wished the resolution focused more on children.

The resolution, council member George Leventhal said, had nothing to do with politics.

“We’re not here to criticize people’s political views. We’re absolutely not here to denounce a political party or a candidate,” Leventhal said at a press conference after the council adopted the resolution. “We’re here to denounce conduct that is harmful to civility and our ability to get along. … We are not making a partisan statement.”

Leggett described the recent vandalism as intolerable acts of intimidation.

“I can say sadly that we have taken a step back, not a step that I would think is a permanent step, but a very decisive step back. That is unacceptable,” Leggett said.