Hate Crimes and Domestic Terrorism on Campus
Army 2nd Lieutenant Richard W. Collins III was murdered on the campus where I work. As a professor, local resident, and father to two Black boys, I was deeply troubled as the hate crime—this act of domestic terrorism—sent ripples throughout my social networks. I had the honor to interview Rick and Dawn Collins, parents of Lt. Collins (pictured on this issue’s cover), about how our social institutions’ neutrality about racism allows hate to proliferate. In response to their son’s murder, the state of Maryland established a $1 million scholarship fund for ROTC students at local historically Black colleges and universities. Still, the Collins family understandably feels both the military and the entire country have failed their son. This interview is excerpted from a much longer conversation; keep an eye on contexts.org for extended video in the coming weeks.
On the morning of May 20, 2017, approximately 3:00 am, our son was standing on the campus at a bus stop at the University of Maryland-College Park with two friends, and they were waiting for an Uber. …This White male approached them and made a statement, something to the fact: “Step to the left if you know what’s good for you.” Our son, confused, looked at him and said, “No.” So, he took out a knife and stabbed our son in the heart. He died from his injuries later at the hospital. We were sort of thrust into this entire, for lack of a better word, this entire nightmare from that point on, and here we are today, trying to make sense of the whole circumstance.
You raised Lt. Collins to treat everyone equally, and I think the race and gender of his two friends speak to the man your son was.
Richard was standing there with a lady who was Asian and a White male. If you knew anything about Richard, he didn’t care who you were, as long as you were willing to have fun. He was a young Black man, but he played lacrosse. He played golf. He played chess. But he would also get on a basketball court. So, it did not matter to him. And to say that he didn’t “see color,” that’s wrong because he did see color. He knew, but he didn’t care.
Sean Urbanski, the man who murdered Lt. Collins, had ties to White supremacist groups, and he is being charged with a hate crime. How would you define a “hate crime”?
A hate crime is something that an individual or a group of individuals use as a means of targeting a specific group that is usually unlike them, and directing their political ideology against them, and using acts of violence because they feel empowered, entitled, and authorized by some illegitimate authority.
I know that you all have done a lot of events in different places in terms of aiming to raise awareness about hate crimes and domestic terrorism. You all have also been to the State House of Maryland and Capitol Hill, speaking and meeting with representatives, like Congresswoman Lucy McBath, whose son Jordan Davis was killed in a similar situation in Atlanta.
Congresswoman McBath has been phenomenal. She understood the pain of a mother. We had a forum at Bowie State University, where our son graduated. You were part of that panel, and it brought to light a lot of issues. We also had a representative from the Southern Poverty Law Center who spoke truth to power.
Don’t want to forget Congressman Correa of California. …[H]e actually held our son’s picture up on the House Floor during a Judiciary Committee. And of course, we have our Senator Steny Hoyer and Congressman Anthony Brown who presented a resolution on the congressional Floor. Sadly, only Democrats signed that resolution, not one Republican. This is not a Democrat-Republican issue. This is a “what’s wrong with America” issue.
[Now] in the 2nd Lt. Richard W. Collins III Foundation, we’re raising monies to help someone, to educate people as to what the ills are, and making sure that if possible, another mom and dad doesn’t have to sit in this chair and feel the pain that we feel. We are on that mission and it wasn’t something that we chose.
Richard was a newly admitted commissioned officer, and all of the speech that you hear about “support the military,” you wonder… here is a young man willing to put his life on the line for the freedom of all… and yet not one [military representative] would step forward and say something about this horrific incident? It’s just eye-opening for me.
What has the military done to memorialize Lt. Collins, particularly since his father and his grandfather were and are veterans?
The military… has essentially said, “We send our condolences, but there is nothing we can do.” Though our son was commissioned by a three-star general, that commissioning was purely ceremonial. They’re saying that our son [as a ROTC officer] was not a member of the United States Army. …He’s not eligible for any of the honors or benefits that are normally accorded a fallen service member. So, we’re certainly not pleased with that, of course, and we’re talking with our representatives…
Nothing has been done to honor him by the U.S. Army—something he loved, but they didn’t love him back. Also, University of Maryland’s ROTC cadet program—not one time have we heard from anyone at the higher levels of the ROTC program. Nothing. He was commissioned to be a chemical intelligence officer— everyone doesn’t reach that pinnacle to be a paratrooper and to be a chemical intelligence officer—and nothing.
What do you think that the military should do to memorialize your son?
The first thing they should do is extend to him a waiver of whatever policies that caused them to deny him the eligibility for the honors and benefits of a service member, and also recognize the fact that he’s officially…a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army. …[T]here’s a very small percentage of the population… able to qualify to serve in that capacity, to lead other soldiers in combat or whatever mission they have.
Something that we find ironic is that, if the reverse had happened, [if he had killed a civilian], the military would have court-marshaled our son. Plus, he would’ve been tried by courts.
As we talk today, on Memorial Day, what do freedom, justice, and equality mean to you regarding the legacy of Lt. Collins?
Universities have to acknowledge that you have a problem. You can’t fix a problem until you acknowledge that there is a problem.
We understand there are First Amendment rights [protecting the sort of White supremacist rhetoric our son’s murderer spread online], but there has to be a limit as to what those First Amendment rights mean when they impact the freedoms of other individuals.
We need people, America, to see this is not a Black-White issue. This is an American issue.
I acknowledge when I hear people say, “Thank you for your service.” But, in my mind, I’m thinking, “You have no idea what these service members really have to endure for you to be able to enjoy the privilege of standing in the mall, or at a shopping center, or at a sporting event.” No service member that I know is doing it to receive the accolades or the thanks. They’re doing it because they care about their country, their family, their neighbors. …[T]hey’re willing to make a sacrifice. The citizen can’t be determined by the color of your skin, but what’s in your heart.
We are American.
There’s nothing we can do to bring our son back. …Justice would be if America learned from the tragedy that has struck our family and resolves never to allow it to be repeated. That would be true justice.