Richard Wilbur Collins, III was 23-year- old when he was commissioned last week as an Army second lieutenant, and was scheduled to graduate from Bowie State University on May 23. And it is clear to me that he was murdered on the College Park campus of the University of Maryland over the weekend by a White man, because Collins was young, gifted and Black.
From a journalistic and legal standpoint, Sean Christopher Urbanski, 22 is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law for stabbing Collins in the chest, while Collins waited for an Uber ride early last Saturday morning.
However, detectives have determined Urbanski at the time of the attack was a member of a racist Facebook group, “Alt Reich: Nation.” He didn’t know Collins, who was unarmed. There are no reports of an altercation between the two men. Urbanski simply saw a Black man, a nigger, not on a corner in Washington, D.C. or Baltimore selling drugs, or sitting on the steps of a low-income housing project in one of those cities, the perpetual Black landscapes of the White racist mind. No, Collins was on “his” College Park campus and when Urbanski saw him during those early hours of May 20, he charged at Collins, in a drunken White racist rage and stabbed him to death.
That is murder.
So, while authorities somehow seem to grapple with whether or not they will charge Urbanski with a hate crime, University of Maryland President Wallace D. Loh continues to offer measured statements. “We must all do more to nurture a climate — on campus and beyond — where we stand against hate crimes and we reaffirm the values that define us (as) a university and as a democracy,” said Loh in a statement.
It is baffling to me that Loh, the University of Maryland’s first president of color identifies Collins as African American in his statement, but never mentions the fact that Urbanski is White. But, what is more baffling is Loh seems resistant to acknowledge, at least publicly, that his school has a deeply rooted problem of racial animus directed at Black people.
Beyond a noose being discovered at a fraternity house earlier this month and posters displayed on campus promoting White supremacy earlier in the year, the University of Maryland at College Park has a long, inglorious history of racial tension and intolerance.
For decades (1950-2015), the school’s football stadium (now Maryland Stadium) was called Byrd Stadium, named after the school’s longtime president Harry “Curly” Byrd. A man who the late, great Parren Mitchell, Maryland’s first Black Congressman, who desegregated College Park once referred to as, “…a terrible person, a bigot of the first order…”
I, along with University of Maryland law professor, Larry S. Gibson chronicled Byrd’s legacy in 2004 in the AFRO publication, “The Road to Brown,” which was about the seminal school desegregation Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. “To say that Curly Byrd was a dyed-in-the-wool segregationist would be an understatement,” Gibson told the AFRO. “No university in the nation had to be sued so many times in order to force it to integrate. Even after winning in court, Curly Byrd made it necessary to fight hard to secure that the Court’s order was enforced,” Gibson added.
This is a significant part of the legacy of Byrd, perhaps the University of Maryland’s most influential president. And the residue of his sordid record on race and inclusion — he was a kindred contemporary of George Wallace, only more insidious and effective — still hovers over the College Park campus like a wretched ghoul. His spirit gives comfort to violent, racist cowards like Urbanski.
Loh, the current UM president’s muted and methodical approach in response to the evil that stole the immensely promising future of young Collins is maddening. He talks about, “the values that define us as a university.” In 2017, UM values seem more closely aligned with the antebellum mores of Curly Byrd, to the peril of every person of color on that campus.
Sean Yoes is a senior contributor for the AFRO and host and executive producer of AFRO First Edition, which airs Monday through Friday 5 p.m.-7 p.m. on WEAA, 88.9.