Local leaders gathered Tuesday following the discovery of a racial slur scrawled on the doors of a Gambrills church to decry a rash of vandalism incidents at houses of worship in western Anne Arundel which are being investigated as hate crimes.
Anne Arundel County Police said Monday that detectives were investigating the racially motivated markings at Kingdom Celebration Center on Annapolis Road, where newspapers and litter were also found scattered around the property that morning.
A worker for the church’s weekly food distribution drive had come across the graffiti, and immediately notified church leaders, said Bishop Antonio Palmer, who leads the non-denominational congregation. The three-word message included the racist slur, followed by “in jail.”
In May, police investigated multiple incidents at Ark and Dove Presbyterian Church in Odenton, where a pride-themed rainbow banner and a Black Lives Matter banner were both defaced. The banners were defaced again in June soon after being replaced.
During a Tuesday morning news conference at Kingdom Celebration Center, Anne Arundel County Police Chief Amal Awad said she was “sickened” by the vandalism case, and vowed that her department would investigate diligently.
“We will not be discouraged by your hatred, whoever you are,” Awad said. “We are encouraged to not only identify and arrest you, but to continue the good works these humble caretakers of our community deliver every day.”
Palmer said the use of a racial slur in the graffiti, written on the doors of a Black church, hinted at violent extremism in the heart of the writer.
“We don’t have to wait for the perpetrator to make good on the violence that is in their heart, that was expressed in the words that they wrote in the door, for us to step up and provide adequate protection” to places of worship, Annapolis Del. Shaneka Henson said, joined by several other elected officials.
“No matter how small the graffiti, the trespasser left a huge, clear message of racism and hate,” Palmer said. The use of a racial slur in the vandalism had an “undertone of brooding violence,” he said, adding that the graffiti was “unacceptable, and an indicator that our country has done a poor job in protecting the Black community and houses of worship.”
“Yesterday was a sad day for me as a pastor, as a Black man, and as a citizen of this country that I love,” Palmer said. “But today I didn’t wake up sad. I woke up more determined to fight against evil with good.”
With the incident following several other racially-motivated cases, leaders also pondered how to act beyond condemning and prosecuting hate crimes.
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“The question becomes: what do we as a community do?” said longtime civil rights activist Carl Snowden, who is the convener of the Caucus of African American Leaders. He said that the caucus is developing an “Emmett Till Alert” system, similar to an AMBER Alert, which would instantly notify leaders of racial hate incidents.
“We’ve decided, that it’s necessary given what’s going on in the nation, for us to develop our own security,” Snowden said, later stating that it would be ready by August, the month Till, a 14-year-old Black boy from Mississippi was abducted, tortured and lynched in 1955.
“We’ve seen acts of hate in Anne Arundel County, and we’ve condemned them over and over and over,” County Executive Steuart Pittman said at the conference, referencing the recent string of incidents nearby at Ark and Dove.
“I just want to say to whoever wrote that: the leader of this church is a far, far better person than you are today,” Pittman said.
Jacqueline Boone Allsup, president of the Anne Arundel County branch of the NAACP said at the conference she joined officials in being “outraged at the fact that someone would intentionally write the n-word on the front door of a sanctuary,” encouraging law enforcement officials to prosecute the perpetrator “to the fullest extent of the law.”
Closing the conference, Snowden encouraged community members to join leadership figures at 11 a.m. on Sunday at Kingdom Celebration Center, in solidarity with the church.
Awad encouraged those with information to contact western district detectives at 410-222-8760, or leave an anonymous tip by calling 410-222-4700.