Teaching hate a lesson Creative approach: Howard County police plan aims to educate perpetrators of hate crimes.

March 26, 1998

HOWARD COUNTY'S sensible approach to dealing with hate-crime violators is worth watching. Modeled after a program that tries to reform drunken drivers, its aim is to educate those convicted of the harm they cause.

It is tempting to write off this effort as soft or futile. Hate criminals want to cause harm, one might argue.

Perhaps many of them do and would not feel sympathetic to the victims of racism, anti-Semitism or homophobia.

But evidence shows that many violators commit these acts out of ignorance. Schooling may be the right prescription.

Howard County Police Cpl. Paul Steppe has designed a program for those who spray-paint swastikas and other symbols or commit violent acts against people because of their race or religion.

Corporal Steppe came up with this program after noticing an increase in hate-crime statistics. He should be commended.

As the corporal points out, hate crimes don't stop at the door of the target; they scar the whole community.

In the first of these sessions, Jacques Fein tried to explain to two teen-agers convicted of spray-painting swastikas on Ellicott City buildings about the Holocaust, in which his parents died.

Other jurisdictions ought to watch Howard County's panel, apparently the first of its kind.

These incidents affect every jurisdiction, from a noose placed in a black firefighter's locker in a Baltimore County firehouse to an epithet uttered by a rescue crew member in Annapolis while tending to a dying black man.

Maryland recorded 546 hate crimes -- acts intended to hurt, intimidate or harass members of specific ethnic or religious groups -- in 1995, the most recent year for such state statistics.

Whenever they occur, these crimes -- and the perpetrators -- should be confronted.

Pub Date: 3/26/98

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