Humid City Posts intelligent Rant Against the Grey Ghost
by NoLA Rising
Grey Ghost Allegedly Issued Summons by NOPD for Criminal Damage
I knew it would be too good to last. Just this week, the Grey Ghost began the onslaught of grey that has been further blighting our beloved city. Despite all of the rationalizing from the “art world” that even Mr. Radtke would be too sensible to paint over a Banksy (often increasing building values from $35,000 USD to $170,000 USD), it is evident he is not. Today, the Grey Ghost was seen and shot on video painting over the Banksy piece known as “No Loitering.”
We have heard tales of business owners being duped before by strong arm tactics and threats from “The Grey Ghost” that the City of New Orleans would issue citations. We don’t believe such things until we hear them first-hand and can verify stories with said business owners. One such tale comes from the Queen Food Store on N. Rampart. The Asian business owner gave permission to Banksy himself, I was told. I verified that with the owner who described Banksy as, “polite guy who asked permission.” The piece morphed from a “Buffer” piece into the piece locally known as the “Boy Flying the Refrigerator Kite”.
Not too long after returning from the Gustav evacuation, a “woman from City Hall” went to visit the Queen Food Store. Carrying no identification card from the city, nor any letter verifying a possible citation, this “woman from City Hall” told the business owner (who requested her name not be listed), that she had 30 days to remove the “graffiti” or she would face a $3,000 fine at the end of that 30 days. When asked why she would have to remove it, she was told that “neighbors had complained” because the wall art by Banksy was racist since it depicted a “black boy stealing a cooler”.
Read that last line again and feel free to scroll back up to the picture. A famous one-color silhouette style of Banksy depicting a boy flying a refrigerator kite (indicative of our massive refrigerator fiasco after Katrina) was called racist by “neighbors” that complained. Anyone with any sense could see that piece was in no way racist, and being offended by such an allegation, I went to canvas the Treme neighborhood and ask people in the neighborhood for anyone offended by such a piece of artwork.
I found no one who claimed to be offended by it, though there were some indifferent folks (one person wanted more color). Furthermore, all of the people I discussed this with in the neighborhood, a cross section of races, no one came to the conclusion that the artwork was racist. In the business as usual, don’t get me involved, NoLA, many of the neighbors refused to give me their name. However, one man was not so scared to speak up.
Charles Williams, a local and store regular, saw the mysterious “woman from City Hall” and was there the day she told the owner of the Queen Food Store that she had to paint her building or face a fine. This mysterious woman was not riding in a car identifiable as being from City Hall, but in a white cargo van, according to Mr. Williams. Ordinarily, this would evoke no further inquiry, but Mr. Williams volunteered the statement, that the “same person that wanted this off that wall (indicating the store wall), was with the same person that painted grey across the street.” WHAT? Can you please repeat that Mr. Williams.
Before I could recover from the shock that was more chagrin than anything, another man who lives almost facing the wall of the store, confirmed. “Yeh, it’s that guy that goes around painting grey all over the neighborhood.” I was obliged to take a tour of the area where this gentleman showed me grey splotch after ugly grey splotch of the style of the Grey Ghost that I am already too familiar with. Indeed, the “woman from City Hall” arrived in a white van with the man who painted grey on the building across the street. What a coincidence!
In the concluding conversation with the business owner, while on the phone with a real estate appraiser, I was able to tell her that she had increased her property value anywhere between $75,000 USD to $250,000 and then devalued it. The appraiser stated that the Banksy piece “would have been worth a fortune if it could have been removed.” If not, “still would have substantially increased her property value to make it a worthwhile sell.” A nearby piece (”Girl Under Umbrella”) that has since been covered with a protective Plexiglas has had an offer to the owner for $50,000 USD and replacement of the wall that would be taken. I’d say we have some serious art here…
Further phone calls around City Hall turned up no evidence that the address of the Queen Food Store had been reported for the “offending” artwork. No one I spoke to in the various offices of City Hall knew anything about it and had heard nothing about a “racist” piece of artwork on North Rampart. When pressed for a description by one office and being told it was a boy flying a refrigerator kite, one lady working there said, “oh, I liked that one. It’s on my way to work. Why would anyone remove that?”
The owner of the “No Loitering” piece has some serious recourse due him for this offense by The Grey Ghost. The piece is clearly politically charged and from a community standpoint, a deeply meaningful piece. Here we have depicted an elder African-American man enjoying the simple life of his rocking chair, not loitering as some may be inclined to imply. No, he is the neighborhood elder, watching over the neighborhood, guarding the neighborhood and letting the “little daddies” of the hood know that loitering is not permissible there. Why is he holding the American flag? Perhaps he is that war-era bastion of strength that kept the integrity of the neighborhood intact. Perhaps he is waving the American flag saying that he too is an American and where is his help?
Perhaps it was buffed today because it was blatantly racist as well. Or perhaps, racism on the other end is the clear answer…we will never know for sure. While we do not know the motivations behind the “Grey Ghost”, anyone reasonably acting person does not go around town with the utter impunity that this man does. What is even worse than his flagrant disregard for the way decent people live, is that the New Orleans Police Department gives him free reign. When the police are called on him, they will pull up and drive on by. However, they will pull up like gangbusters on a lanky, pimply-faced white kid when he calls them. WHY THE DISPARITY IN POLICE ACTION?
We have seen the tactics employed by the Grey Ghost and are not impressed. They are deplorable and weigh on the fears of people who don’t question the “authority” of the person “from City Hall.” This is the type of tactic I call fear-mongering. “Gangs are going to take over your store and run you out of business.” “City Hall will fine you $3,000 dollars.” What other lies have been told by this person who it is rumored believes he was sent here by God to rid New Orleans of graffiti?
On Wednesday of this week, City Business broke the news that Fred Radtke finally had police action taken against him while painting over the infamous Press Street wall, owned by Southern Waterproofing at 2930 Burgundy St. However, it wasn’t his friends at the NOPD, it was the Military Police that finally arrived to bring justice and equality to the situation. As quoted in City Business, Michelle Gallodoro stated, “It’s been going on and on like this. No matter what we say he doesn’t listen. This guy is running around throwing paint on private property, and no one is doing anything to stop him. Everyone knows that he defaces private property without permission and yet he’s never fined or jailed or anything.”
The Press Street wall is what would be considered a “legal wall” in other cities. A legal wall is a place where the business owners grant permission to local graffiti writers to do with the wall as they see fit. It is a wall where expression can flourish and Michelle Gallodoro has supported her wall being used in an artistic fashion, unassociated with gang activity as Radtke suggests. Again, she is quoted in City Business as saying; “We don’t want him here anymore. He is making everything worse.”
A more shocking twist of events occurred on Thursday, October 23rd, when City Business had discovered the 5th District Police told the Military Police that this was a civil and not a criminal matter and to tell Ms. Gallodoro to hire a lawyer to sue Radtke. The sad irony here is that when the artists who have been given permission to paint the Press Street wall by the owner are harassed by cops and nearly arrested, while Radtke walks the streets with utter disregard, having already been told by not to touch that particular property through letters and phone calls. Of course, in typical Radtke fashion, he was unavailable for comment. He is always unavailable for comment when it comes to the criticism he justly deserves.
In a city where our friends are murdered at an alarming rate and activists are gunned down on the street while riding bikes, it is no wonder that they let a fanatic like Radtke loose to do his own thing. They have neither the time nor the resources to deal with the “issue”. I return to the question, why then, do they jump when he calls? Because he’s duped the mayor and surrounding police chiefs with tough talk? We have a word for what the Grey Ghost does: vigilantism. Regardless of whether you think what he does is a good idea, ponder this: There are a lot of laws on the books that regular people do not get to enforce.
Operation Clean Sweep, the ego-driven project of The Grey Ghost, in coordination with area police departments, has recently offered rewards of $100 for people calling in to snitch on graffiti writers. The greatest offender (in my own humble opinion) is anti-local business vigilante Radtke and people should call and report him for violation.
Radtke can pretty himself up for the cameras and tap dance all he likes about what is or isn’t conducive to bringing new business to New Orleans, but the grey splotches aren’t any boon to our city either! He can crawl in bed with junior legislators and make laws that don’t address the origin of the issue using outdated policing theories, but the grey splotches aren’t a better approach to fighting graffiti. Capt. Ken Curlee of the State Police can stand next to Radtke on a stage and declare that graffiti on the interstate is a distraction to drivers, but does Capt. Curlee address the numerous traffic signs that Radtke has personally destroyed in the City of New Orleans?
Wouldn’t it be logical, with all of these things considered about Fred Radtke that he be charged under the new graffiti laws (House Bill 163)? The laws the Radtke supports could very well be his own downfall, as the description in the law states that graffiti is any “sign, inscription, design, drawing, diagram, etching, sketch, symbol … name or marking placed upon immovable or movable property in such a manner and in such a location as to deface the property and be visible to the general public.” I call for parity in the case of this hypocrite. Let him be fined, sentenced, forced to clean up his graffiti and given community service to do.
Now, for all intensive purposes comes the news we have all been waiting for. October 23rd, 2008 is a historic day for Mr. Radtke because it is emblematic of the day his ten year reign of grey ends, for Fred Radtke was finally charged with criminal damage to property. What needs to happen now is for all business owners affected is to sue him in civil court and request criminal charges be filed in those events. What needs to happen now is for the cost of the permits for murals to be lowered to affordable rates; public murals and business art make this city special and the selectively enforced procedures are buried in the mire of a bizarre city code. And, what needs to happen now is that the citizens and the business owners take back the direction of their city and not let a select few determine what is and isn’t right for all of us.
It’s one small step in the right direction showing that NoLA is indeed Rising!
See other New Orleans City Business Articles coming out today!
[Editor's Note: This story also is covered (in less depth) by the Times Picayune Newspaper as its front page lead, a story also mirrored on NOLA.com along with a great video - Loki]