Article by Anita O’Bannon | Photography by Faras Aamir | Additional Reporting by Liz Doyle | Owl Staff

Dawar Aamir faced a verbal and physical assault at a Wawa in Churchville, Maryland

“We don’t need y’all in this country, you hear me?”

Dawar Aamir was driving to work when these words were spat at him during a traffic altercation in Churchville, Maryland.

“If you can’t drive then get out of our country,” the man screamed. “If you were in my town, you’d get the [expletive] beat out of you!”

Aamir is an American citizen of Pakistani descent who immigrated to the United States when he was three years old and has been living in Bel Air, Maryland ever since. His racial background became the target of the man’s harassment and evident vitriol.

“The man proceeded to shout vicious things at me,” he recalls. “Which, to this morning, are [still] ringing in my ears.”

After suffering intense verbal abuse, Aamir rolled his car window up and left. Still, the man followed Aamir in his car until they both stopped.

That’s when it became physical.

The attacker forced Aamir from the car and then seized his glasses, worsening the situation because he is “very visually impaired” without them. After another person came out to diffuse the situation, the attacker got back in his car and left.

Shaken, Aamir shared his expe­rience on Facebook, garnering more than 1,000 interactions from support­ers. Later, the attacker was sentenced to one year of probation and ten hours of community service.

“I’ve never felt more degraded as a human being,” Aamir says. “You see these things on the news but don’t think it could happen in person, especially to you.”

This may not seem like a common situation, but these kinds of racially ­charged attacks are increasing in numbers, taking on both verbal and physical forms.

While no statistics exist specifically for Harford County, The Maryland Hate / Bias Report shares that hate crimes regarding race and religion have been on the rise since 2013. That year, Maryland saw 78 reported and verified hate crimes. In 2015, that number went up to 93.

On October 11, 2017, a group of Bel Air High School students posed for a photo, depicting a racial slur spelled out in gigantic letters on their t-shirts.

When they posted it to social media, the picture quickly swept the internet among both outraged critics and vocal supporters. Some commenters quickly dismissed the incident as “harmless fun.”

Though the students were suspended for nine days, others demanded more severe disciplinary action be taken.

A petition pushed for community service, the students’ expulsion, and/or a public apology to their peers. More than 16,000 people signed within a week.

While many were shocked at the students’ actions, Time Magazine reports that Maryland has seen an increase in racial incidents and suspected it could be related to the current political climate.

In the report, Time details vandalism that read “Trump Nation, Whites Only” on a church in Silver Spring, Maryland. They concluded that the phrase could have some relation to President Donald Trump’s immigration policies.

On January 27, 2017, President Trump signed off on an executive order dubbed the “travel ban,” attempting to temporarily refuse entry of refugees and immigrants from Somalia, Yemen, Sudan, Libya, Syria, Iraq and Iran. Multiple appeals have altered the original legislation and while Trump proposed the legislation as a national security enhancement, some dubbed it the “Muslim Ban” due to the Islamic majority in most of the restricted countries.

Citizens like Aravinda Pillalamarri have felt the effects of the rising attention on immigration policies.

Pillalamarri was walking through her Bel Air neighborhood when she was stopped and questioned by local police for reported suspicious behavior.

“Walking while brown?” Pillalamarri questioned the officer.

The phrase refers to the innocent people of color who are stopped by law enforcement due to racial bias.

“I’ve never felt more degraded as a human being.”

When a reply wasn’t given right away, she attempted to leave but she was made to stay for further questioning.

“Are you here illegally?” asked one of the officers. Once proper citizenship was confirmed, she was allowed to go but the events that unfolded that night never left her mind.

She presented her concerns to the county, speaking at the next Board of Town Commissioners meeting.

Many other citizens related to Pillalamarri’s story and when word got out of her experience, they felt they could share their stories as well.

“Several people have approached me and told me about racially motivated incidences they’ve experienced in Harford County,” she shares.

“One man told me that he and his partner experience harassment/being stopped by police while going about their business, such as putting out the trash.”

These kinds of discriminatory acts have been a focus for filmmaker AJ Ali who, in 2012, was stopped in his own neighborhood and accused of breaking into homes because of the color of his skin.

Initially, the accusation angered him and he wanted to lash out at the people who hurt him. Eventually, his heart changed and he realized he wanted to tell a different story. He decided love is the answer.

He went on to direct the film, Walking While Black, addressing racial ­profiling and the impact it has on the lives of people of color.

“I don’t think [racism has] gotten better, it’s just gotten different,” he tells HCC students during a screening of the film.

Ali emphasizes that those who are not part of the solution are part of the problem.

“Those of us who are for diversity, and for inclusion, and for people being treated equally, we need to step up. We can’t be silent.”

Considering these local incidents, Owl Magazine reached out to Bel Air Chief of Police Charles Moore for his comments.

“Our officers [receive] training that helps them understand the perspective from citizens/minorities during law enforcement interactions,” he shares. “They also receive training to help diffuse and de-escalate interactions like the one experienced with Ms. Pillalamarri.”

While officers receive training, for civilians, there are alternatives.

“Community members, 18 years or older, [should] participate in our Community Advisory Board,” he urges. Those who want to make a difference in our town should apply.”

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