ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Police in Rochester were trying to determine Monday who ripped a statue of abolitionist Frederick Douglass from its base on the anniversary of one of his most famous speeches, delivered in the upstate New York city in 1852.
The statue of Douglass was taken on Sunday from Maplewood Park, a site along the Underground Railroad where Douglass and Harriet Tubman helped shuttle slaves to freedom. The statue was found at the brink of the Genesee River gorge about 50 feet (15 meters) from its pedestal, police said. There was damage to the base and a finger.
As President Donald Trump and others pointed at possible culprits, Rochester Police Chief La’Ron Singletary cautioned that investigators still don't why the “disheartening” act of vandalism occurred.
“Right now, for me to guess would be pure speculation,” Singletary told reporters at a news conference.
Singletary said investigators will review camera footage.
In Rochester on July 5, 1852, Douglass gave the speech “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July,” in which he called the celebration of liberty a sham in a nation that enslaves and oppresses its Black citizens.
To a slave, Douglass said, Independence Day is “a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.”
Carvin Eison, a leader of the project that brought the Douglass statue to the park, told the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle another statue will take its place because the damage is too significant.
"Is this some type of retaliation because of the national fever over confederate monuments right now? Very disappointing, it’s beyond disappointing,” Eison told WROC.
Statues depicting Confederate leaders have been toppled or vandalized recently around the nation. But the destruction of a statue honoring the famous abolitionist set off a round of public mourning and finger-pointing on social media.
Trump on Monday tweeted a link to an article about the vandalism and said, without providing evidence, that it “shows these anarchists have no bounds!”
Kenneth B. Morris Jr., great-great-great-grandson of Douglass and co-founder of Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives, said in a statement that the vandalism may have been simply a case of two intoxicated young men testing their strength on an inanimate object, as was the case with another Douglass statue in 2018.
“While the Douglass statues are indeed inanimate, they are a critical reminder of a legacy that is very much alive today,” Morris said. “In fact, the reactions from elected officials, laden with emotion and evocative language, are proof of Douglass’s relevance and the need for forthright discussion about dismantling policies and systems of racism that are still toxic 125 years after his death.”