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Frederick Douglass Family Initiative Issues Statement About Vandalism to Statue

Patti Singer

One of the men who vandalized a statue of Frederick Douglass in December 2018 has spoken out against damage done to the Douglass statue over July 4 weekend at Maplewood Park.

John Boedicker, who made amends through restorative justice, made a statement through Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives (FDFI), an abolitionist and antiracist organization cofounded by the direct descendants of Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington.

“It is truly aggravating for me and saddens my heart, especially in times like this where it looks like positive change is right around the corner given the progress of Black Lives Matter across the world,” Boedicker said in a news release from FDFI. “I don’t want to be silent on this because Frederick’s message became a part of me after I did what I did. Now, more than ever, I would like to convey that.”

The vandalism over July 4 made national news, with tweets and social media posts from the White House and other politicians assigning responsibility to anarchists, mobs, Marxist organizers or retaliation for removing statues of the Confederate era.

“They could all be right or, perhaps, as was the previous case of Douglass statue vandalism in December of 2018, two young men had too much to drink during a night out and felt the need to test their strength on an object they believed to be inanimate,” wrote Kenneth B. Morris, Jr., great-great-great grandson of Douglass.

“While the Douglass statues are indeed inanimate, they are a critical reminder of a legacy that is very much alive today,” he continued in the statement. “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. Whatever the reason for destroying the Douglass statue, it is a clear signal regarding the urgency to make change now.”

Morris said that Boedicker “is testimony that every American can use his or her voice at this moment to stand up for what’s right.”

During a news conference July 6, Rochester Police Chief La’Ron Singletary declined to speculate on a motive. He said RPD was using camera footage and other tools to investigate the incident.

The vandalism to the statue, which was removed from its base and placed over a fence, was part of a violent weekend in Rochester.

From July 3 through July 5, police reported that 13 people were shot in 10 incidents.

Of the injuries sustained in all the incidents, some were serious and one was potentially life-threatening.

One of the incidents was on Chili Avenue, where a Genesee Section officer heard gunfire and saw a male firing toward victims. The officer chased the male, arrested the individual and recovered the gun.

In an incident on Pennsylvania Avenue, officers who were investigating a shooting were approached by a group of about 25 people, who people said were not related to the original call. Two people allegedly grabbed an officer’s arms and one punched an officer in the head. Another officer was injured trying to help the first officer.

Singletary said he was frustrated by the violence and that people felt “emboldened … to challenge authority.”

He said he understands calls for reform and he repeated his willingness to talk with individuals or groups seeking change, but he said that “putting hands on officers” will not be tolerated.

Under bail reform, many charges generate only an appearance ticket. “People know we don’t take them to jail for certain offenses,” Singletary said.

Mayor Lovely Warren issued a statement in response to the violence:

“The only way violence ends is when people have hope and a path to a better future. Thousands of people continue to raise their voices and lift Rochester up by addressing the inequities and racism throughout our community and our nation. My mentor David Gantt spent his life and career sacrificing for those who needed a hand-up. Now, our RASE commission will amplify and continue these efforts. This weekend’s violence shows that this work is more crucial than ever.

“We must instill the belief that life is sacred and everyone should believe in their own potential more than power of a gun. We must also demand that each of us act with dignity and respect for ourselves and our neighbors. I am thankful for the continued work of our police department to take guns off of our streets and to bring those who commit violence to justice. I am also grateful that the officer who was injured this weekend is recovering well.

“Sadly, what Rochester is experiencing is not unique among cities throughout our country. The combination of the pandemic, our economic struggles and anger over injustice has caused violence across our nation. Now, it is on all of us to respond not in fear, but with hope. I encourage everyone to reach out to their neighbors, show strength through kindness and commit ourselves to building Rochester up by doing the right thing.”

City Council did not respond to an email request for comment about the violence or the damage to the statue.