Photo: AP

Last week, Baltimore resident Jacquelyn Smith rolled down her window to give money to a woman panhandler, who appeared to have a baby and a sign reading “Please help me feed my baby.” A male accomplice then approached the window under the guise of thanking her and fatally stabbed Smith.

Her death is desperately sad and enraging. The Baltimore Sun noted in a recent editorial, though, that we run the risk in light of incidents like this of further stigmatizing the homeless, when in fact, it’s “the homeless who are usually the victims, vulnerable to harassment and burglary, and not the predators.”

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This sort of empathy would not stand with David Cordish, the CEO of the Cordish Companies and a personal friend of Donald Trump, who wrote a letter to the Baltimore Sun complaining that the paper’s editorial “completely misses the point.” The point being, according to him, that homelessness ain’t gonna be fixed anytime soon, so “before heaven on earth reigns on our planet, society has the right for citizens not to be murdered in their cars waiting for a light to change.”

Cordish goes on to say that Baltimore should enforce its law against panhandling, as if the act of panhandling is what brought the man to stab Smith. He complains that the police have been told to “stand down” on panhandling, and that the “citizens who live, work and visit the city also have rights.” The right to call the police because someone asked you for money. It’s in the Constitution, buddy.

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His letter also describes another situation from last week in which a homeless man apparently pulled a gun:

On Friday, Dec. 7, a homeless panhandler pulled a gun from his breast pocket on Market Place and Water Street. Private security disarmed the “homeless gentleman” and called the police who eventually responded, but refused to arrest the “homeless” or even cite him.

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Why does Cordish put “homeless” in quotation marks, as if to imply skepticism or disagreement with that label? Does he think these so-called homeless people are in fact better described otherwise? Does he think “homeless” is too generous, or too value-neutral?

To understand what would motivate such a horrible letter, let’s have a look at who Cordish is.

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He is the CEO of a massive real estate company that he inherited from his father—sound familiar?—who “does not demur when asked if he is a billionaire,” according to the Financial Times. He’s also someone whose company has benefitted massively from taxpayer support in “urban revival” real estate projects. A 2015 story by Next City reported how the Cordish Companies benefited from public money in Kansas City, which “issued $295 million in city-backed bonds to help the company build the $350 million KC Live entertainment district.” According to Next City, the tax revenue raised from that district was far below expectations, leaving taxpayers “on the hook for 70 to 75 percent of the money needed to pay down the debt each year.” The development also failed to create the jobs the community hoped for.

Cordish Companies has been accused of racial discrimination at several of their properties. In 2014, the New York Daily News reported that discrimination complaints and lawsuits had been filed at three Cordish locations alleging the companies deployed dress codes to discriminate:

One of the venues was 4th Street Live in Louisville, Ky. “It was definitely a place that African-Americans did not feel welcome,” said Amber Duke of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky.

Duke said Cordish’s dress code — which banned excessively long shirts and sagging pants — sparked so many complaints that the ACLU and other social justice organizations in Kentucky pressed the company to make changes.

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The paper reported that the company settled a complaint with the Kansas City Human Relations Department about the dress code at a Cordish development in the city. In 2017, a federal appeals court reversed the dismissal of a lawsuit against the company based on discrimination at the Kansas City development, where “two African American men sued Cordish after they were removed from or not allowed to enter” a nightclub owned by the company, according to KCUR.

The company also has a history of battling the homeless. In 2015, Cordish Companies announced construction of a fence to block homeless people from accessing their mall property in Elkton, MD. As construction began on that fence two years later, one homeless resident told the Cecil Whig: “We don’t know what we’re going to do, we don’t know where to go, we don’t know how we’re moving our stuff, even if we find another place to put our tent up.”

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David Cordish is a friend of Donald Trump, and Cordish’s son, Reed, worked for the Trump White House as assistant to the president in the Office of American Innovation until February of this year. His wife, Maggie, worked for Ivanka Trump until earlier this year; Ivanka introduced the couple. According to the Washington Post, Reed “said he also helped facilitate an agreement for electronics maker Foxconn to build a planned $10 billion factory in southeastern Wisconsin, where the company will receive $3 billion in state incentives.” Taking after his dad; so heartwarming.

So, we have a Trump-aligned, born-rich, still-rich real estate mogul whose company has benefitted from the largesse of the taxpayer, asserting that until “heaven on earth” arrives, we must criminalize the homeless and assume they are all murderers-in-waiting. Is he actually worried about threats of violence from the homeless? Or is his rich ass more concerned about the affront of merely being asked for money by someone less fortunate than him? Or is it more simple still—the visual affront of being confronted with real, human evidence of what the violence of inequality, perpetuated by the existence of billionaires like him, does to people?

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Cordish claims to believe that “society should and could do more to cure the underlying problems of homelessness.” I have one really good suggestion: Take all of David Cordish’s money, and his shitty son’s money, and all his shitty billionaire friends’ money, and spend that on social housing, homeless shelters, and public services. It might not be heaven, but it’s a start.