HOWARD CO., Md. — The images of hate based on race, sexual orientation and religion covered the walls and sidewalks of Glenelg High School, and four former students paid the price for it with convictions on criminal charges, but it doesn't stop there.
"Hate crimes and bias are on the rise, and we have a lot of work to do," said County Executive Calvin Ball.
Ball says while such incidents are on the rise around the nation, he wants Howard County to take the lead in turning that trend around.
"Here in Howard County we're home to Columbia, we have as our foundation inclusion and diversity, but that only moves forward if we move it forward,” said Ball, “and the first recommendation from my transition team dealt with diversity, equity and inclusion and wanted us to make sure that our Office of Human Rights was the very best that it can be."
In 2017, that same Office of Human Rights received 94 discrimination complaints, issued 51 findings, mediated 11 cases and negotiated more than $170,000 in case settlements.
A majority of the complaints involved allegations of employment and housing discrimination.
While those cases don't rise to the level of criminal such as the hate crimes committed with spray paint at the high school, they add to a disturbing picture of the present that ball hopes to change in the future.
"Well, frankly I've seen a rise in hate and bias, whether it's racial, Islamophobia, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, LGBTQ. Here in Howard County, we've drawn people to be diverse. We have a majority-minority school system. However, for a lot of people, that's scary,” said Ball. “The future, which we are embracing as we write this next chapter in who we're going to be, is very scary for some people who really only cling to the past. If we can have those critical conversations, if we can make this a priority, if we can come together and set that example, we can be that beacon of light for the rest of the country."
The county's Office of Human Rights' mission is to increase equality, promote human rights and to wipe out discrimination.
People living in Howard County who wish to file a complaint can call the office at 410-313-6430.