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- Police chief in Rochester said: “Everything would be speculation as to why this might have occurred."
President Donald Trump and other prominent Republicans pushed theories about the motivations of vandals who toppled a statue of abolitionist Frederick Douglass from its pedestal in a Rochester park over the July 4 weekend.
In a tweet, Trump called the vandalism the work of "anarchists."
Statue of Frederick Douglass Torn Down in Rochester https://t.co/8iEBxSHm52 via @BreitbartNews. This shows that these anarchists have no bounds!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 6, 2020
Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., posted a meme on Facebook calling it the work of "Democrats." On Twitter, Trump Jr. said: "Disgusting! We should all realize this movement is about promoting Marxism not stopping racism. They’re not going to stop folks."
Rep. Lee Zeldin, a Republican who represents Long Island, tweeted: "Every day is filled w/mind boggling new ways to somehow make even less sense than the crazed rhetoric, Marxist organizing & illegal acts of the day before. The winner today is the tearing down of a statue of escaped slave & abolitionist Frederick Douglass."
The House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California, tweeted "Frederick Douglass escaped slavery when he was 19 and became an advisor to President Lincoln. He had every reason to hate, but instead, he dedicated his life to promoting the promise of America. Today mobs tore down a statue of him. They have no shame."
At the time of their statements, the police had made no arrests and the motive remained unknown to authorities.
Some tweets about the motivation of the perpetrators linked to a July 5 news story from the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, which reported the motives of the vandals were unknown. The paper also reported no graffiti was left on the statue or in the park.
Hours after the claims from Trump and others on social media, Rochester Police Chief La’Ron D. Singletary was asked about the incident in a news conference.
"The investigation will involve looking at cameras," Singletary said. "Everything would be speculation as to why this might have occurred, could have been individuals, who - I don’t even want to speculate."
Police hope to learn more once an arrest is made, Singletary said.
"Certainly disheartening, that, whether it was out of pure boredom, or if it was intentional, that someone would damage a statue that resembles something significant in our country," he said.
Singletary said social media "puts a lot of conjecture out there."
Representatives of Trump, Trump Jr., Zeldin and McCarthy did not respond to requests for evidence of their claims.
The statue was removed from its pedestal in Maplewood Park and tossed over a fence near the Genesee River gorge about 50 feet away. The park is also the site of Kelsey’s Landing, a stop on the Underground Railroad, recognized by the National Park Service, where Douglass helped shuttle slaves to freedom. The removal happened on the night of July 4 or the morning of July 5, city spokesman Justin Roj told CNN. On July 5, 1852, Douglass delivered a famous speech, "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?"
In 2018, two intoxicated college students damaged a statue of Douglass, located in downtown Rochester. The students participated in a restorative justice program and learned about Douglass’s legacy, according to the Democrat and Chronicle.
YouTube, Rochester Police Department Chief La’Ron Singletary news conference, via News8 WROC, July 6, 2020. Accessed July 6, 2020.
Democrat and Chronicle, "Frederick Douglass statue vandalized on anniversary of his famous Fourth of July Rochester speech," July 5, 2020. Accessed July 6, 2020.
Twitter, tweet, @realDonaldTrump, July 6, 2020. Accessed July 6, 2020.
Twitter, tweet, @RepLeeZeldin, July 5, 2020. Accessed July 6, 2020.
Twitter, tweet, @GOPLeader, July 5, 2020. Accessed July 6, 2020.
Twitter, tweet, @DonaldJTrumpJr, July 5, 2020. Accessed July 6, 2020.
CNN, "A statue of Frederick Douglass was toppled over the Fourth of July weekend, the anniversary of his famous speech," July 6, 2020. Accessed July 6, 2020.
Teaching American History, speech text, "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July," Frederick Douglass, July 5, 1852. Accessed July 6, 2020.
City of Rochester news release, "Kelsey’s Landing at Lower Falls Designated a National Underground Railroad Network Freedom Site," June 8, 2017. Accessed July 7, 2020.