Tuesday, July 23, 2024

An image of what was removed from Graffiti Alley in Central Square. (Photo: City of Cambridge)

A photo of the change identified in metadata as being from 10:46 a.m. Monday. (Photo: City of Cambridge)

On Monday, the City of Cambridge removed words – “Globalize the Intifada” – painted in Central Square’s Graffiti Alley out of a concern that they can advocate violence and could intimidate the Jewish community, according to an email from City Manager Yi-An Huang.

Graffiti Alley, more formally Richard B. “Rico” Modica Way, is a 100-foot alleyway between Massachusetts Avenue and the parking lot home to Starlight Square. Public art is allowed without formal rules, and its appearance is constantly changing. It sits between the Western Front and Hilton’s Tent City.

The city has removed “inappropriate or racist graffiti in the past,” Huang’s email said.

At 12:23 p.m. on Monday, Huang emailed the City Council informing them of the removal. That email was produced to Cambridge Day on Friday, and is reproduced here in full:

“Dear all,

“I wanted to let you all know that there have been some difficult decisions on Graffiti Alley today. I was made aware of text that read, ‘Globalize the Intifada’ and asked whether this is speech that we allow in our public space. It has been our practice to spray over inappropriate or racist graffiti in the past. We have sprayed over just the text and left the rest of the mural up (see attached).

“I recognize that we are in really complex territory here regarding public space, free speech, and how we are fostering a culture of safety and inclusion for all members of our community. Our leading universities are struggling with these very issues and so I have a lot of humility in stepping into this space. Ultimately, it’s a decision to allow or a decision to not allow certain kinds of language in public space. I am open to conversations on how we do this consistently and in a way that we and our community can understand. I found the opinion piece that Danielle Allen published in The Washington Post to be helpful.

“I also want to recognize how deeply complex and emotional the conflict in Israel and Palestine is and that there are layers of meaning behind the words that we use. ‘Intifada’ can have a general meaning of uprising or protest or resistance, but also has a historical context that includes violence against Jewish civilians and now the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attack. I know that not everyone in our community will read or hear these words the same, but there is an inference in ‘Globalize the Intifada’ to taking action, including in our community, and to violence. This can be deeply intimidating to those in our Jewish community and makes it inappropriate for our public space.

“Finally, I want to emphasize that there is important and legitimate uprising, protest and resistance and that there are terrible things happening right now in Gaza and Palestine that can and should be questioned. The challenge is how we allow for free speech, valuing each other and the pain that is deeply felt by so many, and sustain a healthy public space.

“I know this is a difficult and fraught conversation, I don’t have all the answers, and I’m open to feedback and further discussions.”

Graffiti Alley on Friday. (Photo: John Hawkinson)

As of Friday, four days later, the white patch left behind by the city was written over in indecipherable black scribbles of text. Much of the northwest wall of Graffiti Alley carries speech and artwork in favor of Palestine, including the words “Free Palestine” stenciled hundreds of times in small sizes, as well as in a large headline spanning more than half of one side. Advocacy for Israel was notably missing.

A spokesperson for the city Friday referred to the manager’s email and declined to add more. Michael Monestime, president of the Central Square Business Improvement District, did not respond Friday.