Five years after Lt. Richard Collins III was stabbed to death on the University of Maryland College Park campus, the school has unveiled a plaza dedicated to the Black ROTC graduate, designed to be a “permanent reminder” of the senseless killing and efforts to stamp out racial hatred.
“The plaza was born out of tragedy … And it stands now as a permanent reminder of the mission we must all pursue in creating a more just and equitable world,” University President Darryll Pines said during the ceremony Monday.
Collins, who was days away from graduating Bowie State University and had been commissioned into the U.S. Army as a second lieutenant, was waiting at a campus bus stop after visiting friends on the College Park campus in May 2017, when a white University of Maryland student approached the group of friends and plunged a 3-inch pocket knife into Collins’ chest after ordering him to move out of the way.
The Lt. Richard Collins III Plaza includes two walls, one featuring an engraved plaque honoring Collins and another wall displaying a unity mural created by UMD and Bowie State students.
Pines listed the names of other prominent Marylanders whose names grace buildings and other campus spaces, such as Benjamin Banneker, Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman.
“And now you add the name of Lt. Richard W. Collins III,” Pines said. “This is a name and legacy that will mean something to every person who sets foot on our campus.”
Under rainy skies, the dedication ceremony drew a program of speakers, including pastors, social justice activists and elected officials, and Collins’ parents, Richard Collins II and Dawn Collins.
In emotional remarks, Dawn Collins, who said she remained heartbroken and in agony over the loss of her son, said she hoped the campus plaza named for him would be a “lasting, symbolic place,” that honors her son’s spirit and that serves to repudiate all forms of bigotry. “I said all of it,” she said. “There’s no little one, big one. All of it — gotta go.”
Richard Collins II, who positioned his son’s killing in the long history of violence against African Americans and referred to it as a lynching, said of the plaza honoring his son: “He shall forevermore be the sentinel that faithfully stands watch over this hallowed ground.”
In the wake of Collins’ killing, UMD and Bowie State also formed the Social Justice Alliance, “to break down racial barriers between the two campuses,” Dawn Collins said Monday. “We want to groom young minds on both campuses to work to gather to be active agents of social justice.”
In addition, the Collinses launched a foundation in their son’s name and worked to strengthen Maryland’s hate crime laws.
While Collins’ killer, Sean Urbanski, then 22, was charged with a hate crime in addition to first-degree murder, the hate crime charge was thrown out by the judge during Urbanski’s December 2019 trial, because the judge said prosecutors failed to show Urbanski stabbed Collins to death specifically because he was Black.
The Collinses later successfully lobbied Maryland lawmakers to strengthen the state’s hate crime laws, and the Maryland General Assembly passed the “2nd Lt. Richard Collins III Law” in March 2020.
The unveiling of the plaza Monday came nearly five years to the day since Collins was murdered and just a few days after a white 18-year-old man drove 200 miles to Buffalo, New York, seeking out a predominantly Black neighborhood, and carried out a shooting rampage in a grocery store, killing 10 people.
“It was white supremacist violence that took the life of Lt. Richard W. Collins III,” said Rev. William Lamar IV, of the Metropolitan A.M.E. Church of D.C., adding, “This is also the story of Buffalo as well. This will not stop by our platitudinous rhetoric … it will not stop until we attack head-on the myths that this nation lives by.”
He closed his remarks with a call to do more: “A plaza is not enough.”
Susan Bro, the mother of Heather Heyer, who was killed during the 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, when a car plowed into a group of counterprotesters, also spoke at the ceremony.
“We are part of a club that we didn’t want to be part of. Our children watch over us from above now, murdered in hate crimes,” Bro said.
Pointing to the attack in Buffalo, she said, “I can guarantee you, in about three weeks, it will be old news, and we see this time and time again. We require blood sacrifice to even get interested and involved for three weeks. How much more bloodshed does there need to be before we, as individuals, step up and say no more.”
WTOP’s Neal Augenstein contributed reporting from College Park, Maryland.