Flying Squirrel Community Space Statement on Anti-Black and Antisemitic Racist Defacement of Black Lives Matter Mural on Building
The Flying Squirrel community condemns the white nationalist defacement of the Black Lives Matter mural on our building that occurred last Friday night (Nov. 12). This past Saturday (Nov. 13), in contrast to the ugliness of the racist graffiti, Teen Empowerment and Clarissa Street elders ended their walking tour of Clarissa Street in the parking lot where the internationally known Pythodd Jazz Room once stood. Black youth and elders were informing a broader audience about the thriving African American community that was erased with urban renewal and structurally racist policies—where community activism continues to focus.
The Black Lives Matter mural, painted in 2017 by Nzinga Muhammad, Kaori-Mei Stephens, Etana Browne, was painted to affirm that Black lives matter and share the diverse aspects of Blackness; it condemns white supremacy, Islamophobia, hate and injustice. The white nationalist defacement of the mural was an act of anti-Black racism and antisemitism. These actions will not deter the Flying Squirrel Community Space from providing space and resources to people engaging in activism that centers racial, economic, and social justice in Rochester.
The content below is disturbing. Your discretion is appreciated. The hate symbols sprayed over the mural were not meaningless scribbles; they were direct calls for violence against Jews and Black people:
14/88 A combination of two white supremacist numeric symbols. 14 is shorthand for the “14 Words” slogan, “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.” The second part, 88 stands for “Heil Hitler” – H being the eighth letter of the alphabet.
GTK/RWN “Gas the Kikes”/”Race War Now”
WP “White Power” or “White Pride”
Swastika Nazi Party emblem
Celtic Cross Not exclusively a hate symbol but widely adopted by neo-Nazis, racist skinheads, the Klu Klux Klan, Stormfront and virtually every other type of white supremacist group; especially the version with a circle and no Celtic knot
We are grateful to the artists and WALL\\THERAPY for repairing the mural in an expedient manner.
The Flying Squirrel Community Space has been an important part of the Rochester activist community for over a decade. It is an organizing location for environmental justice, workers justice, Black Lives Matter, prison abolition, police accountability, and other current social movements. Started by a grassroots collective, it has hosted support groups, community discussions, musicians, the Squirrel brunch, and helped bring solidarity and joy to many community members. Last weekend, the first Squirrel brunch since the start of the pandemic took place in the parking lot, with local vendors, food, musicians, and dozens of community members.
Below are statements from the mural artists and members of the community.
Statements from Roc Paint Division and Wall Therapy
We were informed on November 13th that the #BlackLivesMatter mural by Roc Paint Division alumni Etana Brown, Nzinga Muhammad, and Kaori-Mei Stephens painted for WALL\THERAPY 2017 was vandalized by white supremacists. We promptly took action to repair the damage, restoring it to its original form. Rather than give any recognition to hate, we want to highlight the mural and celebrate its powerful message once again.
Statement from artist Nzinga Muhammad
Our mural is a tribute to the beauty of Blackness and the diversity within our community and diaspora. It also serves as an artistic protest against the very injustice, oppression, and bigotry that the tagger chose to display. However, there is no need to put a mural up with this kind of purpose in a place where injustice is not happening. Regardless of the Black judges, mayors, teachers and leaders we have in this city, racism is a sickness that has not yet been healed.
Our mural did its job and has now been proven to be effective in exposing the sick ideals of white supremacy that exist in the city of Rochester, and in this country. It took four years for cowardly individuals to come out and deface a symbol of resistance and power. Thank you for showing us how important our message is, and how four years later, it still stands as a relevant artistic demonstration of anti-racism and unity.
Statement from artist Etana Browne
Our mural in Corn Hill was the biggest message we could put in the city, to reassure and bring power to our people and to show we’re always ready to fight back. For white supremacists to try and destroy and defile our art just shows the real issue in the world that we work so hard to overcome.
Statement from artist Kaori-Mei Stephens
The best memory I have while creating this mural is when a little girl walked by, pointed up, and said “that looks like me.” At that moment I understood the power that art has to uplift and inspire and I felt so proud to be part of this work. Learning about the hateful vandalism, I was saddened but not surprised. What they did could — and has already been undone. But what they can never do is take away our hope, our pride or our joy. In fact, this ignorant act only gives us another opportunity to talk about and celebrate Black diversity.
A Message from Alana Bowen
I am a Jewish person and I am here to call out this senseless act of violence against our community. The vandalism of the mural on the wall of the Flying Squirrel is a clear message to Rochester that the dangerous ideologies of white supremacy, racism, and anti Semitism are alive and here among us.
This message, while incoherent and misleading, is directed at particular groups of people that experience oppression. BIPOC and Jews. The symbols used by the vandals are inherently anti Semitic and anti black.
The Flying Squirrel is a gem in this community, it has been a support to so many justice making movements here in the city of Rochester. To vandalize and target the flying squirrel and this mural is to target Jewish folks, black folks, immigrants, this neighborhood, and the entire community.
A Message from Rabbi Drorah Setel
In 1883, in response to rising antisemitic violence in Europe, the Jewish author Emma Lazarus declared, “Until we are all free, we are none of us free.” The hateful graffiti which defaced the Flying Squirrel's Black Lives Matter mural is yet another reminder that the fates of oppressed and marginalized communities are intertwined. It was not coincidental that the two specific groups targeted by the perpetrators were Blacks and Jews. The foundation of white Christian supremacist ideology is a virulent mix of racism and antisemitism, in which a Jewish conspiracy is believed to underwrite and organize freedom movements for people of color.
Those who deny the full humanity of Blacks and Jews also attack Muslims, LGBTQ+ people, immigrants and anyone else who does not accord with their vision of a heteronormative white Christian America.
Acts such as the mural's desecration are intended to make us fearful. I have to admit they succeed when I think about the fact that they represent the tip of an iceberg of hatred lying beneath the surface of our community. They also bring up previous acts of violence, re-awakening traumatic memories shared beyond lifetimes. But I believe that we have the choice to act out of hope and love rather than despair and hate. In fact we must. Based on his understanding of the Hindu sacred text, the Bhagavad Gita, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. taught, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
In Jewish tradition love is expressed through action. It is not enough to think well of others in the abstract; we are obligated to behave in ways that demonstrate that regard. As we consider our response to this attack, let us begin by reaffirming our commitment to act in solidarity with one another and to the foundational belief that “until we are all free, we are none of us free.”
A Message to the Christians of Rochester
Rev. Matthew Martin Nickoloff, South Wedge Mission
Christian hegemony is real, and its hold on our society is so accepted that it is nearly impossible for those of us who are even marginally Christian to recognize its insidious influence. From the use of the word “pharisee” as a derogatory term in nearly every Bible study I’ve ever attended, to the fact that our mayor’s first response to COVID on social media was to post her daily scripture reading plan, we live in a society that is pervaded by Christian language, values, beliefs, individuals and institutions. Christians claim to follow the Prince of Peace; too often, we are far too comfortable with worshiping at the altar of power, privilege and oppression.
This weekend, Christian White Supremacy made itself undeniably visible in the attack on the Flying Squirrel. This weekend, the Christians of Rochester - whether clergy or lay, conservative or liberal, lapsed or enraptured - must be equally visible in our unanimous denunciation of anti-semitism, anti-blackness, and of the terrorists in our midst who carried it out. This is not a matter of opinion. Jesus’ first words were a call to repentance. Standing against this act of intimidation - and standing firmly and unequivocally with those it targets - is not a matter of opinion or convenience. It is a matter of integrity and of obedience to the Jew from Nazareth who called us to be peacemakers.
Repentance is a first step, but it cannot be our last. Claiming Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s resistance to Hitler as your excuse not to engage is not acceptable ally-ship. Saying that it’s “not all Christians” is simply not true. We who are Christians live in the political and social luxury created long before we were born. We do not have to claim this inheritance. Followers of Jesus need to divest ourselves of our dependence on the protection of power, and instead, walk in the steps of the Jew from Nazareth who called us to take up our cross, opposing all forms of idolatry and oppression, and to follow him in upholding the rights and dignity of all persons.
Those tempted by a Christian hegemonic worldview, or who refuse to see in the mirror of graffiti swastikas our own complicity in its violence, are on the path not to salvation, but spiritual suicide. Christians were not called nor made to be in power. We are called, as Thomas Merton boldly claims, to wage war against despair in all its forms. Let us begin by calling a thing what it is - Christian hegemony is nihilism in shepherd’s clothing. It is not faithfulness to, but an abandonment, not just of the Gospel, but of a life worth living with others. To stand with our Jewish, Muslim, Black, Brown, Queer, Anarchist, and all of our diverse and beautiful kindred, is not about being woke; it is about choosing life, and to live in the kind of world we believe our God truly intended - a world in which we are, blessedly, not truly the center.