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A new system to flag racist incidents and acts of hate is named after Emmett Till

A new Maryland alert system named in honor of the late Emmett Till will aim to bring awareness to hate crimes across the state. Here, a mural featuring a portrait of civil rights icon Emmett Till is seen in Chicago.
Scott Olson
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A new Maryland alert system named in honor of the late Emmett Till will aim to bring awareness to hate crimes across the state. Here, a mural featuring a portrait of civil rights icon Emmett Till is seen in Chicago.

Maryland has seen a slew of racist incidents over the last year — including targeted bomb threats at three Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and vandals writing messages of hate on the doors of a church. Now, the state has launched an alert system to flag racist incidents and acts of hate.

The Emmett Till Alerts system, named in honor of the 14-year-old who was abducted, tortured and killed in 1955 after being accused of whistling at a white woman, will act as a warning system if credible threats are made.

"When the FBI director said often that the greatest domestic terrorism threat is white supremacists, we have to take hate crimes and terrorist threats seriously," said Carl Snowden of the Caucus of African American Leaders of Anne Arundel County, Md., during a news conference announcing the system.

The new warning system, which went into effect this week, will notify Black leaders across Maryland of any credible racist incidents or hate crimes that take place anywhere in the state.

Once a hate crime or racist incident is reported, a team of people will determine if an alert should be sent out.

The Emmett Till Alerts will be sent to 167 Black elected statewide officials in Maryland along with national civil rights organizations, clergy members and other leaders.

"The Emmett Till Alert system is a step in the right direction for our community to govern itself and to heal itself," said Antonio Palmer, senior pastor of Kingdom Celebration Center in Gambrills, Md.

The new alert system aims to increase awareness of hate crimes

The new alert system will consist of three levels: low, medium and high — the highest alert signals a great likelihood of violence or death, Snowden told local TV station WJZ.

"Not all hate crimes are investigated. Not all hate crimes are reported, for a variety of reasons. What we are going to do is make sure every hate crime that we're made aware of goes out on this alert system," Snowden said.

AlertMedia, the company behind the system, told local TV station WBAL that it will deliver alerts via text message and email.

"Once they're able to identify the incidents, they'll really be able to rally and raise that awareness and communicate with different community leaders, activists and politicians," Sara Pratley, AlertMedia's vice president of global intelligence, told WBAL.

"According to the FBI, hate crimes are on the rise across the entirety of the United States, according to the most recent data, and it seems like a trend that will continue to see," she added.

Representatives from Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan's office did not immediately respond to NPR's request for comment on the new alert system.

News of Maryland's Emmett Till Alert system comes after a Mississippi grand jury announced its decision not to indict the white woman whose accusation fueled the lynching of Till nearly 70 years ago.

Earlier this month, a grand jury in Leflore County, Miss., determined there was insufficient evidence to indict Carolyn Bryant Donham on charges of kidnapping and manslaughter, according to The Associated Press.

Till was abducted, tortured and killed after he was accused of whistling at and grabbing Donham, a white woman, while visiting relatives in Mississippi.

Roy Bryant, Donham's then-husband, and J.W. Milam, Roy Bryant's half-brother, were tried for Till's murder but were quickly acquitted by an all-white jury.

Donham, who currently resides in North Carolina, has not yet commented publicly on the recent discovery of the arrest warrant.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jonathan Franklin
Jonathan Franklin is a digital reporter on the News desk covering general assignment and breaking national news.