By Christina Armeni

Fresh flowers lay on the bus stop bench outside of Montgomery Hall, guarded by a black chain fence. This University of Maryland (UMD) bus stop has been closed since 23-year-old 2nd Lt. Richard Collins III was brutally murdered there in 2017. A photo of Collins in his military uniform hangs on the plexiglass. 

More than three years later, UMD and Bowie State University (BSU) have formed a social justice alliance to mark the state’s enactment of the Richard Collins III Law, which expands Maryland’s hate crime laws to ensure that individuals convicted of hate crimes are prosecuted to the full extent of the law. 

“It is important to us that this law serves as a model for other laws across the country and other states, so that we can truly fulfill the purpose of this nation to become a more perfect union,” said Collins’ father, Richard Collins Jr., at a virtual event celebrating the new legislation on October 1st.  

Richard Collins Jr. and his wife, Dawn, lobbied for the bill in Annapolis, alongside Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy. 

“We believe that it will be a benefit to our community, to our state, and in the future people will be able to be held fully accountable for their actions,” Braveboy said. The previous Maryland hate crime statute required establishing proof that hate was the only active motive behind a crime, a nearly impossible task, according to Braveboy.

Collins, a commissioned army officer, was just days away from his college graduation from Bowie State University when a man stabbed and killed him while he was visiting the UMD campus. Sean Urbanski was convicted of first-degree murder in the killing, but not of a hate crime. Urbanski had ties to a white supremacy group.

“It was devastating,” said Braveboy, a UMD alumni. “Having been a student at the University of Maryland, I know that there has always been racial tension on the campus.” Braveboy said that the Collins family, whom she worked with closely to lobby for the new statute, cares deeply about helping the community and protecting students. 

“It’s a big deal, because I think nationally we’ve seen a lot of incidents of hate and violence as a result of hate, and the question is, are people being held accountable?” Braveboy said. 

Kevin Bradley moved to College Park soon after the Collins murder, bringing his family here, in part, beause of racial tension in their former Northern Virginia community. Bradley was “surprised but not shocked” by the incident.

“These kinds of laws don’t speak to a stance on crime, but they speak to a stance on the evaluation of the lives of underrepresented people in the community,” Bradley said. He and his wife were concerned about their three sons’ safety after hearing about the murder. 

“If their lives were equally valued and considered, there would be no need to have extra legislation around [defining and prosecuting hate crimes],” Bradley said. 

The BSU-UMD Social Justice Alliance aims to take part in the fight against social injustice through educational initiatives. “More than ever, this newly formed alliance is needed to address critical issues facing our society,” said Bowie State University President Aminta Breaux at the virtual announcement. In addition to adding courses focused on racial justice, both universities plan to dedicate a scholarship in Collins’ name.  

Recognizing the importance of the new law, Braveboy said, “This is about accountability. Holding people accountable for their actions. It’s about recognizing that hate cannot be tolerated in any form, and if you commit a crime based on hate, the state will hold you accountable.”