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Presenter behind a podium with projection screen behind. Panel at table in front of audience
The Maryland Commission on Hate Crime Response and Prevention holds a September 2023 forum at Montgomery College.

OJP Grants Aimed at Combatting Rise in Hate Crimes

George Briscoe answered his door at two o’clock one morning in 1884 to find a so-called “vigilance committee” at his doorstep. The group was demanding he leave Anne Arundel County, Maryland. Briscoe, a Black man, was suspected of being involved in a series of local robberies.

“The group was reportedly surprised to find that Briscoe answered the door fully dressed. Briscoe responded angrily to their threats, and someone in the crowd fired a shotgun into Briscoe's home,” according to Maryland State Archives. Briscoe was arrested, with the presiding judge disapproving of his demeanor in the preliminary hearing.

“(His) manner and language were insulting to himself and all who were present. The man was full of bravado at all times,” the judge said.

Two deputies were charged with transferring Briscoe to jail after the hearing, but along the way, a group of angry men descended on the transport. The deputies fled as the mob took Briscoe, who hanged him and shot him several times. The coroner would later find that Briscoe’s neck did not break when he was hanged, and that he died of strangulation. The judge who oversaw Briscoe’s initial hearing requested a jury of inquest be formed to hear testimony about the lynching, however the jury determined the perpetrators were “person or persons unknown.”

George Briscoe’s horrifying murder at the hands of a mob, and the glaring lack of accountability for the perpetrators, reflects our nation’s tragic history of race-based lynchings, violence and injustice. Unfortunately, horrific hate crimes continue to remain a persistent threat today. 2022 saw the most reported hate crimes for a single year since the FBI began tracking that information in 1991. Last year in the U.S., there were 11,634 reported hate crime incidents motivated by bias based on race, ethnicity, ancestry, religion, sexual orientation, disability, gender or gender identity. We also know that, historically, hate crimes tend to be underreported.

OJP Funding Supports Variety of Critical Programs

The Department of Justice, and its grant-making component, The Office of Justice Programs, recognize the urgency of addressing the past and present impact of hate crimes. OJP grant funds support a range of efforts related to fighting hate crimes.

OJP’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, through their Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Program, awarded more than $17 million in FY23 to support state, local and tribal law enforcement and prosecution agencies and their partners in conducting outreach, educating practitioners and the public and investigating and prosecuting hate crimes. While the Shepard-Byrd Program provides funds addressing hate crime in the present, BJA’s Emmett Till Cold Case Investigations and Prosecution Program supports law enforcement and prosecutors in their efforts to investigate and resolve cold-case homicides that involve civil rights violations. In FY23, BJA granted $1.5 million to support the program. BJA also awarded $8 million in Community-based Approaches to Prevent and Address Hate Crimes grants across the country.

The National Crime Victimization Survey, managed by OJP’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, is the nation's primary source of information on reported and unreported criminal victimization. Based on NCVS data, BJS published the report, Hate Crime Victimization, 2005-2019, which examines the number of hate crimes committed over time, characteristics of hate crimes, the victim’s perception of the bias that motivated the crime, hate crime reporting, and demographic characteristics of victims and perpetrators.

Hate crime reporting is also being enhanced by the $9 million BJS and the Office for Victims of Crime are awarding in FY23 under the Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act. BJS funds are being used to help law enforcement agencies across the U.S. improve hate crime reporting. OVC awards are supporting state-run hate crime reporting hotlines intended to provide additional ways for victims, who might be particularly hesitant, to report hate crimes and be connected to the services they need.

OJP’s National Institute of Justice supported research that investigated the pathway to individuals committing hate crimes and resulted in the first-ever national dataset of people arrested or indicted for hate crimes. NIJ also awarded funding to the University of New Hampshire to conduct a three-year study (2019-2021) to gather nationally representative data on hate crime incidents known to police. The data was used to determine how agency-level policies affect the reporting and investigation of hate crimes, identify categories of hate crime offenses and identify characteristics of individuals suspected of perpetrating hate crimes. In FY23, NIJ is granting over $2 million to research and evaluation projects that inform efforts to prevent and combat hate crimes and their effects.

All told in FY23, OJP is granting over $38 million to programs focused on hate crimes.

Maryland – A National Model

While this work is of national scope, and there are many notable efforts across the country, the state of Maryland has become a leader in addressing the issue of hate crimes. They serve as a model for states across the country in how to effectively leverage OJP funding to advance important progress in this area. DOJ leaders recently had the opportunity to come together with Maryland Attorney General Anthony Brown and other Maryland state officials to highlight this important work.

Funded through the Emmett Till Program and established in 2019, the Maryland Lynching Truth and Reconciliation Commission is the first of its kind in the United States. The Commission works to expand documentation and public understanding of the more than 40 known cases of racial terror lynching in Maryland through archival and community-based research, including public hearings in communities where these lynchings have occurred.

In 2023, AG Brown asked the Maryland General Assembly for civil rights enforcement authority in the form of Senate Bill 540. According to the Maryland Attorney General, the Bill, “gives the Attorney General's Office the ability to investigate, civilly prosecute, and remediate civil rights violations of non-governmental entities. This expanded authority is a first in Maryland history and allows the Office, alongside its partners, to protect Marylanders no matter their race, color, religion or creed, sex, age, ancestry or national origin, marital status, physical or mental disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity.”

(For a deeper dive into Maryland’s work on hate crimes, read this in-depth article published by BJA.)

The work in Maryland and across the country shows that, although hate crimes are on the rise, there is much good work we can do to combat this disturbing trend. It has never been more important to mobilize broad coalitions among community stakeholders, law enforcement and prosecutors to send a clear message that hate has no place in our communities. At DOJ and OJP, we will use every tool at our disposal to prevent hate crimes from happening, prosecute them to the fullest extent when they do and support our country and communities in healing from the wounds of the past.

Date Published: October 31, 2023