To my friends, family, and colleagues:
Yesterday in the Baltimore Sun, an article appeared regarding the Wall Hunters mural project and my work as the founder of Baltimore Slumlord Watch and Housing Policy Watch — both of which I am the director and founder. In the article, allegations of anti-Semitism were made, along with the words “hate crime”. I would like to take this opportunity to dispel these baseless accusations, which were not only levied against me, but against the artist Gaia and the founder and director of Wall Hunters, Nether.
Gaia’s mural came out of the idea of a shared history, albeit not always a pleasant one, between African-Americans and Jews. The story of Exodus is one that most people who feel powerless can relate to – songs with deep spiritual connotations have been written about it – songs meant to not only tell a story, but to uplift, inspire, celebrate, and strengthen. Art, like music, also has the ability to do these things – along with the ability to provoke thoughts and feelings that perhaps we as a society would wish to keep under wraps…individually, and collectively. I think this mural succeeds in many ways – it serves as a symbol of perhaps an unpleasant facet of property ownership and tenancy, not only in Baltimore, but other cities such as New York. Gaia and I had a long phone conversation a few days before the mural appeared, and I supported his thoughts and ideas, and encouraged him to dig deep for this one. As I supported him then, I 100% support him now, and can tell you with that same 100% certainty, this artwork did not come from a place of hate, but of a thoughtful decision to inspire and provoke meaningful conversation.
These properties were specifically chosen not for their ownership, but for their location and visibility to people who might be walking or driving past them. They were nothing but a series of addresses, with their ownership being secondary to location. The owners are as varied as Baltimore itself: white, black, Jew, gentile, female, male – no specific owner was targeted, nor was any race or religion.
Unfortunately, it would seem the owners of the Old York Road property, where Gaia’s mural is located, are more interested in deflecting the attention away from themselves, and are unwilling to accept responsibility for the destruction of the communities across our city where their blighted properties are located. Over the past five years, I’ve received periodic emails from Stanley Rochkind, and once from Danny Steger, who was quoted in the article – yet they’ve never offered any solutions or logical reasoning for the blight and destruction these properties have on not just the neighborhood, but on the people who live there. It is my hope the mural project will inspire many of you to ask questions of these property owners, demand answers, and also work together to find positive sustainable solutions.
While being accused of being anti-Semitic is not particularly pleasant, I do want to make one thing very clear: This baseless accusation will not deter me from continuing to assist Nether and Wall Hunters in their goals, nor will it deter me from continuing my own work – the goal of which is to make sure that all of Baltimore’s residents have the opportunity to live in safe, affordable, and healthy communities. I would ask that you join me in this effort, whether through your tax-deductible donation, or through your continued support and conversation.
Housing Policy Watch