WXXI AM News

"It's time to consider how we treat people," says project manager after vandalism of Douglass statue

Dec 17, 2018

UPDATE: On Monday afternoon, St. John Fisher President Gerard Rooney said the 2 students accused of criminal mischief have been suspended:

Here is his full statement:

"Effective immediately, two students allegedly involved in vandalism of a Frederick Douglass statue have been suspended from the College.  The suspension will continue until the legally mandated student conduct hearing addressing this matter is completed.  We have taken the strongest possible action available to us at this time.  In addition to continuing to follow the College’s own Student Conduct Process, the administration will cooperate fully with members of the law enforcement community."

Statue of Frederick Douglass near corner of Tracy and Alexander Streets before it was damaged Sunday
Credit Ryan Williamson

Last summer, 13 statues of famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass were installed at various locations around the city of Rochester to commemorate the bicentennial of Douglass' birth.

Early Sunday morning, one of the more than six foot tall statues located near Tracy and Alexander Streets was damaged as two St. John Fisher College students allegedly tried to take it down and remove it from the site.

Rochester police charged 20-year old John Boedicker and 21-year old Charles Milks with criminal mischief.

The incident has sparked outrage and anger in the community, but also a call for this to be used as a teachable moment.

Chris Christopher, manager of the Re-energizing the legacy of Frederick Douglass Project, says a witness to the incident Sunday contradicts Boedicker’s statement to WXXI News that he and Milks’ actions were not racially motivated.  Christopher said the witness, who spoke to other media outlets at the site where the statue once stood, said hateful racial epithets were used by those responsible for the vandalism.

Boedicker said he has received countless death threats.  He said he and Milks 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.”

“I’m finding that a little bit difficult to swallow,” said Christopher. “The witness actually has no agenda to make these claims but I think these two men have a need to justify their behavior in some way.”

The location of the damaged statue, which has now been removed, is the former site of the Seward Seminary. Frederick Douglass’ daughter, Rosetta, attended the prestigious girls’ school, but was segregated from her white classmates and taught in a separate room.

"So this is already a location where something quite unhappy happened,” Christopher said. “For this to have taken place at this location is really something for us to consider how we treat people."

Christopher said Frederick Douglass would not want the community to give into the vandalism but to replace the damaged statue right away.  Plans are underway to do that. There is one remaining statue that was not installed yet. Christopher said that statue might be placed at the Tracy and Alexander Street location if it is not yet promised to another site. Either way, she said the sculptor will have to create a new one.

Click on the LISTEN link above to hear an interview with Chris Christopher.

Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren released this statement on Monday

"The vandalism and theft of the Frederick Douglass statue on Tracy Street is a sad event that demonstrates remarkable disrespect for the citizens of Rochester, especially those who have worked so hard to celebrate the legacy of Douglass during the 200th anniversary of his birth. I am grateful to the citizens who reported this incident as it unfolded and for the immediate response of the RPD, which resulted in a successful arrest. I have also spoken with Dr. Gerard Rooney, President of St. John Fisher College, who shares our community’s contempt for this type of behavior. We should all use this opportunity to consider the wisdom and continued relevance in Douglass's own words when he said: “The soul that is within me, no man can degrade.”