The Jewish neighborhood watch group at the center of an incident that had inflamed black-Jewish tensions in Northwest Baltimore posted a photo of an African American man this week on its Facebook page that led many commenters to criticize the picture's implication of wrongdoing.
The photo, posted on Shomrim of Baltimore's publicly-accessible Facebook page, is simple enough: it shows a young, black male riding a bicycle and towing along another, riderless bike.
The photo—posted without a caption, credit or explanation (see clarification below)—drew nearly 20 comments, some of which implied the unidentified black youth was a thief. The photo, like most on the page, was posted by someone with administrative privileges to the site—and not by a fan of the page, which is used to report anything "suspicious."
Many commenters questioned why Shomrim posted the photo on Tuesday. It was still on the site as of 3:45 p.m. Thursday. Some asked if it would increase existing tensions spurred by an incident between a Shomrim member who was convicted earlier this year for assaulting a black teen he suspected of a crime.
After Pikesville Patch contacted Shomrim about the matter, all the comments were removed from that post. The seven "likes" remained. Patch is not identifying the commenters because their identities have not been confirmed.
- "Buy one, get one free, (assuming he paid for the first one)."
- "A picture is worth a thousand words. This picture and negative comments are what is causing tension in our community. I demand an end to Jews assuming this guy is returning a lost bike. He clearly is wearing his hat in a normal, civilized fashion and is not wearing a hoodie."
- "I just think if he stole this, he looks pretty calm and nonchalant about it. He is not trying to flee ..."
- "The comments (as well as the picture being posted with no explanation) is pretty inappropriate, especially given recent events. It is no service to our community to make fun of this kid. Be d an l'kaf zechus."
- "Notice which direction on park heights he's headed got the goods and rollin on out thank you very much."
Nathan Willner, general counsel for Shomrim of Baltimore, confirmed Wednesday evening that the Facebook page is managed by the local group.
The photo shows in the background an Upper Park Heights house that's recognizable to residents.
While Willner had not yet seen the photo or accompanying comments when interviewed on Wednesday, he said the comments did not warrant any media attention.
"I'm sure there is not a story there," said Willner, adding that he did not know who posted the photo. He said posting it is a "A freedom of speech thing.”
The Upper Park Heights neighborhood has a problem with people , he added. The Facebook page—which has 538 "likes"—features mostly updates and tips about crime in the Upper Park Heights area near Pikesville. The page's "about" section says: "If you see anything suspicious, please call us ..."
"More times than not, the person stealing the bicycle has a bicycle. You see someone who is the wrong size for the bicycle, or you will see one person with two bicycles,” he said.
Willner said he would look at the post and call back, but, as of publication time, he had not returned that call, nor another left at his law office Thursday morning.
Werdesheim was patrolling Upper Park Heights as a member on Nov. 19, 2010, when the assault of the 15-year-old Ausby occurred.
During trial in June, Werdesheims' attorneys asserted that Werdesheim approached Ausby because Ausby had allegedly been going up to house doors and looking into vehicles.
Ausby, who is black, refused to testify in the trial, but his attorney said Werdesheim held Ausby against his will.
The watch group's members are primarily Orthodox Jewish men—as is Werdesheim—who reside in the largely Jewish Upper Park Heights communities that straddle northwest Baltimore and Pikesville, and are anchored along Park Heights and Greenspring avenues.
The group, which mainly patrols those areas, but has been known to help other groups in northwest Baltimore County as well, is open to all residents, Willner has said.
While the 2010 incident involved a white man and a black teen, the assistant prosecutor, defense attorney and judge each made it clear during Werdesheim's trial that there were no charges based on race.
Werdesheim was sentenced June 27 to three years in prison—all suspended.
However, he was also given homework: to research and write essays about Baltimore City's special interest groups and the strengths and weaknesses of its neighborhoods.
Baltimore City Circuit Judge Pamela White explained the assignment: "You need to broaden your sense of community," she told Werdesheim.
The original article stated that the photograph was posted without a caption, credit or explanation. By "credit," the article was referring to who took the photograph. It is still not clear who took the photograph. But the posting of the photograph on the Facebook page can be credited to Shomrim of Baltimore. The photograph was originally posted for nearly three days without an explanation until Pikesville Patch editor Janet Metzer called with questions. The comments that had been affixed to the post were removed and an explanation was added.