The man accused of writing a racist slur on a Gambrills church evaded his court date on Friday, leaving the congregation and civil rights leaders still seeking answers as county leaders continue to confront incidents of hate through the criminal justice system.
Anne Arundel District Judge H. Richard Duden III issued a bench warrant for Donald Eugene Hood Jr.’s arrest after the 66-year-old failed to appear for his scheduled trial date. Hood faces several misdemeanor hate crime counts after police say he was caught on camera writing the offensive message on the church, the Kingdom Celebration Center, on Aug. 3.
Hood’s address is listed in court records as a homeless support center in Annapolis. He was released following his Aug. 6 arrest.
“This guy should have never been released, especially with no address of record on no bond,” said Carl Snowden, a longtime area civil rights activist and convener of the Caucus of African American Leaders. “Just an unacceptable error.”
Police alleged that Hood, 66, was responsible for the Aug. 3 racial slurs after reviewing footage from the church’s surveillance camera, which was installed after a previous racist scrawling in July.
The incidents led the Caucus of African American Leaders to establish the Emmett Till Alert system, which warns Black leaders of racist incidents and hate crimes.
The alert system has been used once so far — a “severe” warning was issued in October when the system reported that coordinated attacks against children and adults were planned at day care facilities in the Black community.
Bishop Antonio Palmer, who leads the congregation at Kingdom Celebration Center, said he doesn’t harbor hatred for Hood, and would be praying for him. He said Hood would have likely benefited from associating with the church, which routinely runs food drives for the homeless.
Palmer himself recently came under scrutiny after posting on Facebook that “elite Jews who control the media” had improperly labeled NBA star Kyrie Irving as antisemitic after the Brooklyn Nets player posted a link to a documentary that amplified tropes about Jewish power, control and greed.
Palmer said he did not intend to cause harm with the post, which has since been deleted, and said he was stating that Irving was treated unfairly.
“I preach a gospel of love: Black or white, Jew or gentile,” he said. “I preach justice and fairness and equity; it would be counterproductive to do otherwise.”
He said he hasn’t seen the film and doesn’t promote it, and that he does not agree with the documentary’s labeling of the Holocaust as a falsehood.
“I stand with my Jewish brothers and sisters that [the Holocaust] is not a false narrative. I’m deeply sorrowful for that,” he said, adding that as a Black man, he understands the pain brought on by a dark history.
Palmer said that he believes that members of the Igbo ethnic group, to whom he’s traced his heritage, are descendants of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. He said he would like to open a conversation about the history of African groups, which have been erased by a legacy of colonialism and the slave trade.
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Ahead of Hood’s hearing, Palmer held out hope that justice would be served. He expressed disappointment that Hood only faced misdemeanor charges. At news conferences following the series of racist incidents, Palmer said he and his congregation, which is predominantly Black, worried the situation could escalate from graffiti to violence.
“We are worried now because we don’t know if this guy will come back with more than spray paint,” said Elder Charles E. James Sr., a minister who works with the caucus. “We know he will be judged eventually either in this life or the next.”
Anne Arundel County Police recorded 39 hate-bias incidents in 2021, continuing a downward trend from a 2019 peak of 81. Of the incidents last year, police found that 33 were motivated by race, according to a yearly Maryland State Police report. Two incidents were motivated by religion, and two others by sexual orientation. One was motivated by gender identity, and another had multiple motivations.
At a statewide level, nearly half of the incidents were considered motivated by anti-Black sentiment, followed by anti-Jewish and anti-gay motivations, according to the report, which did not detail specific motivations at the county level.
At an October forum, Anne Arundel State’s Attorney Anne Colt Leitess said her office prosecutes anywhere from half a dozen to a dozen hate crimes a year. All hate crime charges are screened by Deputy State’s Attorney Brian Marsh. Leitess said county police protocols ensure that a supervisor is present for any incident suspected of being motivated by hate, even if no criminal activity occurred.
This year, multiple hate crime cases await trial. Brandon Dozier, a 32-year-old Glen Burnie man, awaits trial on misdemeanor charges after county police say he spray-painted swastikas on the roadway and on a homeowners association building. A 53-year-old woman faces misdemeanor assault and hate crime charges after an employee at a Glen Burnie physical therapy establishment told police she called her a racial slur and spat on her. Charging papers say Carla Ann Valejo admitted to police she said the slur, but denied spitting.
In October, John Wesley Sparkman pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor hate crime charge after a taxi driver accused him of grabbing his neck and calling him several slurs. Anne Arundel Circuit Judge J. Michael Wachs gave Sparkman a one-year suspended sentence, ordering the 41-year-old Severna Park resident to complete anger management and racial sensitivity courses while serving one year of probation.