25 April 2008
Gray Ghost Launches Offensive at Cafe
Ladies and gentlemen, the Gray Ghost strikes again. It's no longer about art, but about what is right and decent in our city. For someone to verbally affront someone with misogynistic comments is too much. Much too much! I have personally spoken with the girl in the following story and am appalled at the abusive and offensive language used against her (language far too offensive to post on a family friendly blog such as this one).
Thank God that members of the City Council are finally speaking out against this "self-appointed scourge of graffiti". Someone needs to do something now before this "man" goes too far...it seems, imho, his boundaries may already be diminished between his views and the rest of New Orleans society. Neither me, nor people who support me, will back down on this issue until there is a meaningful solution to the Gray Ghost, the graffiti situation that has been perpetuated by the Gray Ghost, and the end of Mr. Radtke's funding from reputable sources that therefore make it possible for him to deface private property with the same utter disregard as those he says he opposes. Those who financially support Mr. Radtke should be held legally culpable and financial responsible for every allegedly illegal act he commits.
Mr. Radtke, I know you read my blog on a regular basis, YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF YOURSELF TO PUBLICLY SPEAK TO A GIRL IN SUCH MANNER. This story further shows how you are no longer a part of the solution, but are NOW part of the problem! Thank you all and have a good Jazzfest. Also, please remember Mr. Radtke in your prayers that he may find solace within himself and follow a more peaceful and meaningful path...
Gray Ghost launches offensive at café
by Richard A. Webster Staff Writer
Editor's note: The following is an extended version of a story that will appear in Monday's issue of CityBusiness.
NEW ORLEANS - On April 19 a customer walked into Mojo Coffee House on Magazine Street and told employee Alicia Adams there was a strange man outside painting the side of the building.
Adams stepped outside and saw a white van parked across the street with several men standing in front of it staring at her. She looked to her left and that’s when she saw him, a tall, stocky man wearing dark sunglasses.
Adams recognized the man immediately. It was Fred Radtke, the self-appointed scourge of graffiti.
Radtke is the founder of Operation Clean Sweep, a nonprofit dedicated to the eradication of graffiti. He covers up the spray-painted vandalism using buckets of gray paint, thus earning himself the infamous moniker — the Gray Ghost.
Adams said Radtke didn’t pay any attention to her. He walked across the street, grabbed another roller out of his van, walked back across the street and began to paint over markings on a telephone pole.
Adams, 24, said she asked Radtke to “please don’t paint on our private property.” His response has left her shaken and afraid for her own safety.
Adams said Radtke verbally attacked her with the most offensive of obscenities, letting her know that he could care less what she thought and was going to do whatever he wanted.
“I was going to call the police," she said, "and he started mocking me, yelling, 'Oh murder! Someone call the police! Help me! Help me!’ He was screaming at me from across the street and in front of my customers while I’m at work trying to handle this in a professional manner.”
After his tirade, Radtke got into his van and pulled away. Adams said she called the police, reported the incident, gave them Radtke’s license plate number and asked them to come by the cafe but the police never arrived.
“Other people saw what was happening and were scared of him and worried about my safety because of his completely over-the-top, unwarranted reaction,” Adams said. “They were worried if I said anything else to him he might take it one step further. ”
New Orleans Police Department spokesman Sgt. Joe Narcisse did not respond to calls for comment.
Radtke denied shouting obscenities and said it was Adams who was abusive.
“I swear to God, I’ve been doing this for 10 years and in that time I’ve never cursed at a woman or a girl,” Radtke said. “She was the one yelling and screaming at me. ”
Radtke said he has never painted the Mojo building because the coffee house staff, who he accuses of being sympathetic to the graffiti artists, constantly harass him.
“Usually when I go to take out graffiti near that coffee shop I bring a police escort so I don’t get intimidated,” Radtke said. “If I’m taking out graffiti across the street, they walk over to us and start taking my picture. They do it all the time, which is why I need police escorts. ”
Business owners along Magazine Street have long complained that Radtke, who is not a city employee, has painted on their buildings without their permission. But when told of their concerns, Narcisse said in January that the NOPD has no intention of charging Radtke with defacing of public or private property and praised his efforts in reducing crime and improving the city’s quality of life.
“What he’s doing is work that the city would be doing itself provided we had the resources and manpower,” Narcisse said at the time. “ He’s not doing anything that we aren’t asking him to do. ”
But City Councilwoman at-large Jacquelyn Brechtel Clarkson said the city has never authorized Operation Clean Sweep.
“We want graffiti removed but we want it authorized and controlled as to when, where and how he can do it,” Clarkson said. “I know the city would never give (Radtke) authorization to do any of what he is doing, including going on someone’s private property. And he certainly doesn’t have the right to be abusive to anybody, not in this city.”
The real problem is that the city is not doing anything to stop graffiti, and that has created the need for a person like Fred Radtke, said Robert Wolf, past president of the Coliseum Square Neighborhood Association.
“The situation we’re running into across the city is that we don’t have any real leadership at the top, so a lot of our neighborhoods have to do everything on their own,” Wolf said. “Fred Radtke is a classic example of city government failure, and he’s stepping in to fill the void.”
But Radtke is an imperfect solution to a large problem, and businesses and property owners on Magazine Street have complained about his tactics, Wolf said.
“I believe his intentions are all but the best and I don’t think he’s looking to do anything negative," Wolf said. "But I think the problem for him is that it has become personal. And once it crossed that line, I think he’s had a hard time keeping it in balance and making the right choices in some cases. ”
When Demian Estevez, owner of Mojo, called Radtke to ask him about the confrontation with Adams, he said Radtke was just as abusive to him.
“He was yelling and screaming. He said that he never touched our building and that the 'little bitch' was lying.”
But when Estevez arrived at Mojo on April 19 just an hour after Radtke left, he said there was a large splotch of gray paint on the side of the building that had never been there before.
“I could still smell the primer paint.”
Estevez said no one has sprayed graffiti on his building for years because the graffiti artists have respected his property. But now that Radtke has smeared gray paint on his building, all bets are off.
“Now that Radtke’s gotten so infamous and made it known that this is his crusade, now it’s a war,” Estevez said. “Anything that is gray becomes a hot spot for graffiti artists, and now I’m going to have graffiti all over my walls. I’m sure of it. I was trying to be real nice and tell Radtke, ‘What you don’t understand is that now they are out to get you. You’re not helping people like me anymore.’ Every time someone gives him a can of paint, someone is out there buying 10 cans of spray paint.”
And it’s no longer only cans of spray paint people have to worry about. The taggers are now emptying fire extinguishers, filling them back up with paint and covering buildings with 7-foot-high lettering, Estevez said.
“We don’t live in a gang neighborhood. This graffiti isn’t gang-related. It’s a bunch of little white kids. They’re harmless,” Estevez said. “But this thing just keeps escalating every time Radtke is out there with his gray paint. He paints over the graffiti and then they come back and paint over his gray. It’s a never-ending cycle.”
On the same Saturday Adams had her run-in with Radtke, one block down the street the owners of Eye Candy Tattoo felt the sting of the Gray Ghost.
Donn Davis was inside with a customer when his cleaning lady, who had just left, called to tell him that Radtke was outside the shop.
By the time Davis went outside, the Ghost was gone. But he left behind his calling card, a large splotch of gray paint on one of the store’s front posts.
“Someone had written something in crayon, and I had wiped part of it off,” Davis said. "I was going to have our cleaning girl clean off the rest, but then this guy comes and paints over it. He didn’t come inside to ask or anything.”
Davis called the police, and two officers came by to take a report.
“They said if I saw him to call and they’d ticket him for painting on private property but that’s all they can do," Davis said.
Across the street from Eye Candy, Radtke painted over graffiti on the windows of an abandoned building and that has caused additional problems, Davis said.
“I pointed it out to the police who came by. You can’t see in there real good, so now people go hang out in there. I’ve seen hookers taking guys in there and guys going in to smoke rock. They have a nice little enclave there because the windows are gray. At some point something has to change. Radtke has been trying the same thing since the '90s and it’s just not working. But he keeps at it and that’s the definition of insanity. ”
Adams said Radtke’s “venomous” reaction to her request to stop painting on their private property shocked and disturbed her to the point where she has friends come to Mojo to keep her company if she needs to work a shift alone.
“I was completely shocked that a man of his age who is supposedly working with the city would have the audacity to speak not only to a citizen of the community but a younger female in that manner,” Adams said. “I heard he’s a former Marine which is even more astounding because I come from a Marine family and my uncle and grandfather would never treat a woman like that. I don’t know if this guy is going to come back here and do something, but he is a very scary man and seems completely unstable.”
Special Thanks to City Business for their fine reporting in this matter.
Other Related City Business articles:
This is what LORD DAVID from Humid City has to say:
Here's what Maitri had to say:
Here's what JudyB at Thanks, Katrina has to say:
Visit Mojo Coffee House at 1500 Magazine St, New Orleans, LA 70130 and let them know you support them...especially Alicia who had to deal with this offensive situation.
***As a quick aside, Mr. Radtke has called on the press in the past to highlight his works around the city and has in the past, as far as we've been able to discern, taken money from the city that came from taxpayers. Since he says he works in the interest of the public good, and has attracted media attention to his cause when it was suitable for his purposes, he has moved himself into the realm of a public figure. This is not meant to be seen as an attack on a single man, as his "Operation Clean Sweep" is a non-profit that has claimed hundreds of supporters in the past. This is a continuing story in the New Orleans area that has been focused on four times already by the leading Business paper CITY BUSINESS. We are merely repeating the outrage that City Business has courageously brought to public attention.