WXXI AM News

A Frederick Douglass statue in Rochester damaged in what RPD says may have been a theft attempt

Dec 16, 2018

Photo from an event in July of one of the Douglass statues erected around the city.
Credit Tianna Manon / WXXI News

Rochester Police are investigating damage done to one of the 13 statues of Frederick Douglass that have been placed around the city.

Police say that early Sunday morning, shortly after midnight,  officers responded to the area near 1 Tracy Street, which is near Alexander St.,  for the report of males trying to steal a statue.

Police took two people  into custody for allegedly damaging a statue of Frederick Douglass.  Authorities have now charged 20 year old John Boedicker of Endicott and 21 year old Charles Milks of Kenmore with criminal mischief in the 4th degree.

The statue is one of 13 statues erected this year to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of the civil rights icon, who had lived in Rochester and also published his anti-slavery newspaper, The North Star in the city. He is buried at Mt. Hope Cemetery.

The 6-foot, 7-inch statue is a one of the replicas of  the statue first erected in 1899. That statue has been in Highland Park, and it will be moved to a more visible location.

On Sunday, a statement was released by Carvin Eison, Project Director; Bleu Cease, Project Co-Director; and Chris Christopher, Project Manager for the “Re-energizing the Legacy of Frederick Douglass project.

The statement says that people are devastated to hear about the attempted theft and severe damage to the statue, and it says that a witness to the incident has reported that “hateful racial epithets” were used by those involved.

The statement also says that they encourage the community to “rise above the anger and disappointment” and turn it into “a teachable moment, as Douglass would have wanted us to do."

The group also says that the statue at the corner of Alexander and Tracy Streets will be replaced as quickly as possible.

Both of the men charged are students at St. John Fisher College. The president of the college, Gerard Rooney, released a statement on Sunday night saying that the alleged behavior involving the Frederick Douglass statue “goes against who we are and who we strive to be.”

He says the college shares the outrage that members of the Rochester community feel about the incident and says that those who engage in behavior that may violate  the values articulated in the college’s mission statement are held accountable through the appropriate internal processes.

Rooney also says that Fisher recognizes the need to redouble its efforts to continue to educate the campus around issues of diversity and race.

A local community activist, Calvin Eaton, founder of 540WMain Communiversity, says he is “appalled and angry” at the vandalism and speaks to the need for more education, training and awareness in the local college community and Rochester at large.

John Boedicker responded to WXXI News about the statue incident with this statement:

"I just wish to get the word out that this incident was not racially motivated whatsoever. Me and my friend were extremely drunk, and for some reason thought it was a good idea to try and take a statue. It had nothing to do with the identity of the statue whatsoever like everyone thinks. And the cops must have seen our side, because we were not charged with a hate crime. If the cops would have noted anything of the sort we would have been charged with that as well. Me and my friend did a terrible thing and I will not deny that but the motivation to it was 100% alcohol related. Nothing else contributed. I apologize to anyone and everyone whom we hurt by destroying that statue and we actually already apologized to the sculptor as well. We just want to make this right."