The president of NAACP's Baltimore chapter on Friday called Shomrim of Baltimore's Facebook page "disgusting" and said its depiction of black people displays a "prejudice" that she believes was also seen during a criminal trial this summer involving a member of the Jewish neighborhood watch group.
However, a Shomrim leader said that the group's Facebook postings are only meant to help police solve crimes.
On Tuesday Shomrim published a photo of a young, black male riding a bicycle in Upper Park Heights while towing another, riderless bike beside him. It was posted without an explanation as to why it was posted between Tuesday and Thursday afternoon.
Some of Shomrim's Facebook readers' comments joked or implied that the male had stolen the second bicycle. But most of the nearly 20 comments were critical of the photo, saying that posting it would create racial tension.
Tessa Hill-Aston, president of the NAACP's Baltimore chapter, told Pikesville Patch on Thursday that the photo and others on the Facebook page displayed prejudice.
"For Shomrim to put that on, whomever did it, without a caption and without showing something positive—like that (the boy) was helping someone because it had a flat—is totally inappropriate this day and time," Hill-Aston said. "It's disgusting."
Hill-Aston said the photo, and others on the site like it, are inappropriate.
"In my mind, they are posting things that show they are targeting someone who is African American—looking in a negative light—and that's not appropriate," she said.
Another photo posted by Shomrim March 4, also originally posted without caption or explanation, shows a woman waiting in line at a local Giant Food Store.
It spurred similar comments from readers, including, "If Shomrim is going to post things like this, at least make them useful and informative, not just a venue for jokes."
In the comments accompanying the March 4 photo, Shomrim eventually explains that the group—not the police—is looking for her in connection with a crime at Rite Aid, but they did not specify what kind of crime.
"To me that's making a statement," Hill-Aston said of the photos. "They think they can do that without repercussion, yet they want to be (trusted as) watchdogs in the community."
"They're being very brazen to do something like that after they've been looked at unfavorably," she said.
She was referring to a trial this summer in which former Shomrim member, Eli Werdesheim, and his brother were charged with assaulting Corey Ausby, 15, who is black, and holding him against his will.
In May, Eli Werdesheim was convicted of second-degree assault and false imprisonment for that incident that took place Nov. 19, 2010. In June he was sentenced to 3 years in prison—all suspended. His brother Avi was cleared of charges.
Numerous Shomrim witnesses testified in the trial, and Hill-Aston attended.
"I could feel the sense of prejudice coming out of some of the witnesses because they were hostile to the prosecutor," who was black, she said.
On Wednesday, after Pikesville Patch spoke with Shomrim's general counsel about the photo of the African American male with two bikes, Shomrim removed the nearly 20 comments attached to it.
On Thursday, the all-volunteer group had also posted an explanation with the photo.
Ronnie Rosenbluth, Shomrim vice president, said Friday afternoon that he can't speak on behalf of the group without speaking with the board first.
However, speaking independently, he said, "I would have thought that Tessa would have called me if she was concerned about anything we posted online. That was our understanding." He describes the group's working relationship with NAACP as "a good one."
And he noted that Shomrim has asked the NAACP and other groups to help them find African American member applicants.
Shomrim could better coordinate how the Facebook page is managed, for example, how comments and responses to them are managed, he said.
And he emphasized that photos posted on Facebook are there to help police solve crime—not as statements about race.
The disclaimer Shomrim posted Wednesday states that, "As always, all photos are taken by Shomrim volunteers or community members and are not an indication of comment on a person's guilt or innocence."
The group's Facebook page has 548 "likes"—that's eight more than on Tuesday—and states that its mission is to "gather intelligence on security and safety issues affecting our community."
Their area includes Upper Park Heights: Northwest Baltimore and its communities that extend into Pikesville—communities that are anchored by Park Heights and Greenspring avenues.
The top of the Facebook page tells readers that "if you see anything suspicious, please call us at 410-358-9999."
Stay with Patch for more information on Ronnie Bluth's independent response to the NAACP comments.