The statue was ripped off its base in Maplewood Park — a site commemorating the Underground Railroad — on Sunday and left near the brink of a gorge some 15 metres away. Officials say the statue is too damaged to restore.
Police say it’s unclear who brought down the statue, and there were no protests scheduled to take place in the park that night.
U.S. President Donald Trump was quick to blame the incident on anti-racism protesters, without evidence. “This shows that these anarchists have no bounds!” he tweeted on Monday morning, while sharing a link from the far-right Breitbart News website.
Trump’s accusation came amid his broader effort to discredit the protesters by describing them as “thugs” and focusing on their destruction of various statues of historically racist figures. The protesters have been marching since May to denounce systemic racism and police brutality following the death of George Floyd.
Trump described the protests on Saturday as evidence of a “new far-left fascism” during an Independence Day speech in front of Mount Rushmore. He also suggested the anti-racism activists were part of a “merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values and indoctrinate our children.”
The president raised eyebrows back in 2017 when he seemed to imply that Frederick Douglass was still alive.
“Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is getting recognized more and more, I notice,” Trump said on Feb. 1, 2017, during an event marking the start of Black History Month.
Douglass’ descendants responded to that incident by suggesting that Trump wasn’t aware of his history.
Frederick Douglass was a former slave who became an abolitionist and part of the Underground Railroad that helped others escape slavery in the 1800s.
He famously criticized the U.S. Independence Day holiday in a speech in Rochester on July 5, 1852. Douglass described the day as a sham, adding that to a slave in America, it’s simply “the Fourth of July.”
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.”
The Douglass statue toppled on Sunday was one of 13 placed throughout Rochester in 2018.
Carvin Eison, who led the project to build the statues, says the Douglass monument will need to be replaced because of the damage.
Eison also hinted that the statue might have been targeted as part of the backlash against anti-racism protests.
“Is this some type of retaliation because of the national fever over confederate monuments right now?” he told WROC. “It’s beyond disappointing.”
He added that he’s determined to put up another statue so whoever did this knows “we are not going to be deterred from our objective … to continually celebrate Frederick Douglass.
“This monument will still stand because the ideas behind it are bigger than the monument,” he said.
A pair of white college students ripped the statue from its base once before, in late 2018. Witnesses said the pair were yelling racial slurs at the time, according to Rochester First News. The students ultimately pleaded guilty to fourth-degree mischief and agreed to meet with the artist who made the statue as part of their sentence.
Rev. Julius Jackson Jr., who witnessed that 2018 incident, told WROC that he hopes this one is not racially motivated.
“We’ve been down this road before,” he said. “I would like to believe it’s not that, it was just some kids. But it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s … retaliatory.”
Rochester police say they are investigating the latest incident. As of this writing, no suspects have been identified.
—With files from The Associated Press