When he woke up last Thursday morning to discover that someone placed a vulgar, racist sign next to the Black Lives Matter lawn sign in his yard, Pikesville resident Andrew Walen says his initial reaction was simply “rage.”

“This was very concerning in our neighborhood, where there are maybe one or two black families,” he says.

Walen and his wife, Jennifer, installed a Black Lives Matter sign on their lawn in the aftermath of the George Floyd tragedy in Minneapolis on May 25 to show their solidarity with the movement.

The handwritten sign placed next to the Walens’ lawn sign sometime in the early hours of June 18 read, “If White Life does not matter then your’s [sic] is cheap [expletive] Bootlicker.”

A licensed clinical social worker who grew up in Baltimore City and attended public schools that were largely African-American, Walen says he is accustomed to being in the minority.

“I grew up understanding and supporting black culture and having black friends, but I didn’t fully understand the socio-cultural issues [surrounding racism] until I went to social work school,” says Walen, 47, a graduate of Baltimore City College High School and the University of Tennessee College of Social Work in Nashville. “[Since then] social justice and advocacy are an important part of my belief system.”

After seeing the racist sign on his property, Walen immediately contacted the Baltimore County Police Department, who came to his home to take a “bias report” and interview his neighbors.

“No one knows who did this,” Walen says. “No one’s security cameras showed anything. But it scared my family greatly. For the first time in my life, I’m getting a security system. For the first time, I feel unsafe in my neighborhood.

“You know what, though,” he says. “If that’s the cost of speaking up for Black Lives Matter, I’m willing to pay it. I truly believe white silence equals complicity with racism, and I refuse to be silent. I have to stand up and support my friends and neighbors.”

On the bright side, Walen says he’s been deeply touched by the support of his neighbors and community, including legislators from the 11th District who have placed Black Lives Matter signs in their own yards after learning about the trespassing and defacement of the Walens’ property.

“Someone created a neighborhood email list last year and since the community found out [about the incident], the response has been amazing,” Walen says. “People have told us they’ve bought packs of 10 signs and have been putting them up in their yards. That’s what’s amazing about this Jewish community and neighborhood.”

Walen, who is founder and CEO of The Body Image Therapy Center, says he’s also been “impressed by how quickly Del. Jon Cardin (D-11th) got involved and continues to check in on us. That speaks to the importance of local politicians.”