“America is in crisis:” Real estate leaders address George Floyd protests

Developers, brokerage heads express solidarity but urge non-violence

TRD NATIONAL /
Jun.June 01, 2020 01:48 PM
Clockwise from bottom left: Robert Reffkin of Compass, John Gomes, Scott Rechler of RXR Realty, Rich Barton of Zillow, Gary Keller of Keller Williams and Don Peebles of The Peebles Corporation (Getty)

Clockwise from bottom left: Robert Reffkin of Compass, John Gomes, Scott Rechler of RXR Realty, Rich Barton of Zillow, Gary Keller of Keller Williams and Don Peebles of The Peebles Corporation (Getty)

UPDATED June 1, 2020, 3:25 p.m.: On May 25, George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis, died after being pinned down by three police officers — one of whom kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds. Footage of the arrest has set off a wave of protests against police brutality and racism, with major cities such as New York and Los Angeles seeing some of the most heated demonstrations.

Leaders from the real estate industry, often reticent to add their voices to the national dialogue, have not shied away this time. Many top developers, brokerage chiefs and other heads of prominent firms have spoken out against racism and encouraged protests.

To a person, however, they have emphasized that actions should be non-violent. And the vast majority did not mention the police, but instead condemned discrimination in general.

“The rage currently being felt across our country reflects the widening inequality and systemic racism that has plagued our nation for far too long,” Scott Rechler, chairman and CEO of RXR Realty, tweeted Sunday. He urged demonstrators, however, to avoid violence, and instead channel their anger into change at the ballot box.

Quoting rapper Killer Mike, Rechler said “it is your duty not to burn your own house down for anger with an enemy … but to plot, plan, strategize and organize.”

Brian Chesky, CEO of Airbnb, tweeted that the short-term rental platform stands “with those using their voices and peacefully calling for justice, fairness and racial equality.”

“America is in crisis,” Don Peebles, chair of development firm the Peebles Organization and one of the most prominent developers of color, wrote. “Covid-19 combined with racism is destroying our country.”

Glenn Kelman, CEO of Redfin, wrote about the importance of systematically addressing discrimination.

“The most obvious thing is hiring and developing more people of color to positions of power,” he wrote on the company blog Sunday. “We say that we believe talent is equally distributed between people of different races, but most businesses, including Redfin, are run mostly by white people.”

Rich Barton, CEO of Zillow, also declared himself an “ally” of black people. The listings giant tweeted a simple graphic stating: “Racism has no home here.”

Robert Reffkin, CEO and co-founder of Compass, described himself as a “Black man who has felt out of place his entire life.”

“I’m heartbroken that all this pain we’re feeling, all of the energy being generated, all of the moral clarity that a moment like this creates — might still not lead to enough change,” he said in a company-wide email Sunday shared with The Real Deal.

Business interests typically avoid hot-button political issues for fear of upsetting one constituency or another. Rechler, an unusually outspoken voice in the real estate industry, spoke up during the Charlottesville protests as well, when many other leaders in the business stayed silent. He has also spoken out in favor of gun control.

Floyd’s death has outraged people across the political spectrum. The potential for division, however, is in how police respond to protests, vandalism and looting, and how much attention is focused on lawlessness in the wake of Floyd’s death rather than on the incident itself.

Bess Freedman, CEO of Brown Harris Stevens, shared a notice of a donation she made to the Equal Justice Initiative, saying on Instagram that “besides posting, let’s support places that push for changes.”

Top brokers also spoke out. Leonard Steinberg of Compass delivered perhaps the most forceful statement and was nearly alone among real estate figures in mentioning the police.

“I feel a responsibility to voice my thorough disgust by what we as a nation — and the world — have witnessed in the videotaped murder of George Floyd,” he wrote on Instagram. “The repugnant visuals are made worse by the ‘law enforcement’ enablers who stood by and did nothing. We should ALL protest this and let our disgust be heard loudly and clearly and peacefully.”

 
View this post on Instagram
 

As an American Citizen and a fellow human being, I feel a responsibility to voice my thorough disgust by what we as a nation – and the world – have witnessed in the video-taped murder of George Floyd. The repugnant visuals are made worse by the ‘law enforcement’ enablers who stood by and did nothing. We should ALL protest this and let our disgust be heard loudly and clearly and peacefully. There will always be thugs in our world. Worse, there will always be enablers of thuggish behavior. Let’s fight back, identify them, shame them, prosecute them, and make real change this time. ALL violence needs to be fought. ALL abuse of power and racist-fueled abuse needs to be stopped. Anyone who fuels racism, hatred and/or violence is truly the enemy of all. Let’s unite on this issue and rid our world of this virus that has been around for way too long.

A post shared by Leonard Steinberg Team/Compass (@theleonardsteinbergteam) on

John Gomes of the Eklund-Gomes team at Douglas Elliman said in a post, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired!”

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.


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