Photo by Jaisal Noor

The few Baltimoreans who were out and about this morning in the Station North area amid social distancing would have been the first to see the billboard atop the current campaign headquarters of Baltimore mayor Jack Young with fitted a new slogan.

Since Young announced he would be running for mayor, the billboard, at the corner of North Ave. and North Charles Street, has featured the mayor’s face and the words, “Bernard C. ‘Jack’ Young, Baltimore’s Mayor.” 


Presumably reimagined at some point late last night (and first reported by WYPR’s Emily Sullivan), the billboard blacks-out Young’s messaging and replaces it with, “CANCEL RENT AND FUCK THE POLICE! FTP” and a small three arrows image in a circle—the social-democratic logo associated with resistance to totalitarianism. A grinning Jack Young still remains along with the “By Authority Friends of Bernard C. ‘Jack Young. Martin Cadogan, Treasurer,” mischievously suggesting Young’s campaign has paid for this new, radical message. 

The Beat spoke to one of the artists responsible for the changes to Young’s sign who asked to remain anonymous. They characterized the tags as a positive change to the sign.

“The billboard has been painted and repaired by a group of individuals,” they told the Beat

Following the death of Freddie Gray five years ago, this same billboard had been changed to read, “Whoever Died of a Rough Ride? The whole damn system.” The “rough ride” statement on the billboard has remained there since 2015 though occasionally other occupants have temporarily covered it up. A Made in Baltimore pop-up sign covered it when the building was used in 2017 for the holiday season. During the 2018 election, Governor Larry Hogan used the building as his Baltimore campaign headquarters and the billboard displayed Hogan and Lieutenant Governor Boyd Rutherford, both with their wives, along with the words “Baltimore Strong.” 

This new message returns the billboard’s message to the demands for change and accountability it has been broadcasting for the most of the past five years. It was put up there now in response to it being five years since the Baltimore Uprising and to criticize ongoing actions by the Baltimore Police.

“The message is timed with the fifth anniversary of Freddie Gray’s death and the first flight of the N73266 spy plane,” the artist told the Beat.

This past Friday, May 1, the privately-owned, billionaire-funded surveillance plane supported by the Baltimore Police Department began flying over the city during the day, recording everything, in hopes, according to police, that it can help solve homicide. Activists and the American Civil Liberties Union have long opposed the plane and recently filed a lawsuit against it, which was struck down by a federal judge (the ACLU said they will appeal). The Beat revealed in December 2019, that the surveillance plane back when it flew in secret in 2016 captured a police shooting and police and prosecutors mischaracterized the footage and claimed it did not contradict what police claimed though it in part, did contradict those claims.

The artist explained that the message was also in response to increased calls for rent strikes during COVID-19 from those struggling to make ends meet and given severely limited support—as the disastrous roll-out of one-time $1,200 stimulus checks and Maryland’s severely dysfunctional unemployment website illustrate.

“Cancel Rent is a statement of solidarity with other cities with communities struggling under quarantine,” the artist told the Beat.

The “Cancel Rent” and “Fuck the Police” messages has popped-up all over the Baltimore neighborhoods of Charles Village, Old Goucher, and Station North over the past couple months with similar sloganeering even before COVID-19. These messages, scrawled on walls, electrical boxes, and really anywhere one can write, have only increased as calls for rent strikes grow. Those smaller tags in Baltimore neighborhoods are not directly tied to those who changed the billboard on top of Young’s campaign headquarters, the artist told the Beat.

“Fortunately, a lot of the other messaging in the neighborhood is all conducted independently,” they said.

The artist said they were “surprised” by the occasional covering of the sign over the years but stressed that its message is broader than anti-Hogan or anti-Young sentiments.

“This is not an attack on any politician but the whole system,” they told the Beat.

An update: On Monday, May 4, the billboard was changed and now reads, “CANCEL HATE AND THANK THE POLICE + BCFD.” The Beat reached out to one of the artists behind “CANCEL RENT AND FUCK THE POLICE” for comment on this change to their changes.

“There will be no gratitude to the police for the extrajudicial killing of Freddie Gray,” they told the Beat.

Brandon Soderberg was the Director Of Operations and is a cofounder of Baltimore Beat. He is the coauthor of the book I Got a Monster. Previously, he was editor-in-chief of Baltimore City Paper. His work...