Rochester, N.Y. (WHAM) - Two men pleaded not guilty in Rochester City Court on Monday morning to charges related to the alleged theft and damaging of a statue of Frederick Douglass.
Officers responded to Tracey Street near Alexander Street for the report of people trying to steal a statue early Sunday morning.
20-year-old John Boedicker of Endicott and 21-year-old Charles Milks of Kenmore were arrested and charged with fourth-degree criminal mischief, a misdemeanor.
St. John Fisher College confirmed that both young men are students. Both students were suspended Monday afternoon.
Timothy Myers heard the commotion, and said he noticed 4-5 people around the statue when it came down.
"I was yelling at them, saying, 'That’s ridiculous, why are you guys doing that? You guys need to stop,"' Myers said. "They were shaking it up, yelling, screaming. Eventually they broke it loose, then they ran that way and carried it along."
Carvin Eison heads the "Re-Energizing the Legacy Frederick Douglass Committee," which has been honoring Douglass throughout the year in honor of Douglass' 200th birthday.
"It’s truly bothersome. It disturbs me because we put so much energy into making this," said Eison. "And I’m not just talking about the financial cost, I’m talking about the social, political costs of bringing an entire community together around these critical issues."
The artist, Olivia Kim, tells 13WHAM that she is also upset.
But both Kim and Eison say they want to use the incident as a teaching moment. They say that's how Douglass would've handled the situation.
"We’re going to use this as a focal point, a rallying cry to our community: We’re bigger than this, we’re better than this," said Eison.
Kim said she wants to sit down the accused men, and discuss the incident with them. Kim says she also wants to invite the pair to help restore the damaged statue.
Until then, Eison says a replacement statue will likely go up as early as this week.
Both Boedicker and Milks later apologized for the incident.
Boedicker told 13WHAM, "We did a terrible thing and dismantled something that means a lot to so many people." He went on to say: "We have apologized to many people today and just wish to make this right."
Milks told 13WHAM, "We didn’t intend for all this and I’ve already contacted the historical society and the sculptor in order to help right this wrong."
"Frankly, they have a lot to be regretful for," Chris Christopher told 13WHAM News on Monday. Christopher is the project manager for the "Re-Energizing the Legacy Frederick Douglass Committee."
"I think that it’s important they own the consequences of their actions. I hope their expressions of their remorse are genuine," said Christopher.
Boedicker and Milks said they have reached out to the artist to help fix the statue. Both were both assigned public defenders for their hearings. Boedicker is scheduled to return to court on January 9; Milks is scheduled to be back on January 3.
They have to understand this is more than a prank that they thought may have been appropriate for whatever their state of of mind was for that moment," Eison told 13WHAM News on Monday.
St. John Fisher College President Rooney issued a statement Monday afternoon after suspending Milks and Boedicker.
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.
Carvin Eison, Project Co-Director Bleu Cease and Christine Christopher released a statement, saying:
People around the area are devastated to learn the news of the attempted theft and severe damage to the statue of Frederick Douglass last night. We wish that we could write this off as an immature act of vandalism, but sadly, the witness to the theft reports that hateful racial epithets were used by those responsible. We find that incredibly sad.
Throughout the course of this year-long celebration of the bicentennial of the birth of Frederick Douglass, and specifically his life and legacy here in Rochester, we have repeated talked about how the statues of Douglass that have been place around the community have brought people together. In fact, more than 100 schools, colleges, universities, fraternal organizations, arts organizations, museums, churches, neighbor groups, elected officials, artists and other individuals have spent the past year in celebration of Douglass. Just a week ago, a sold-out audience came together at Hochstein to remember Douglass, and hear from noted historian David Blight. This demonstration of unity speaks volumes more about who we are than the hateful acts of these individuals.
The easy response, the human response is anger. But I encourage this community to rise above the anger and disappointment, and turn this into a teachable moment -- as Douglass would have wanted us to do. The statue at the corner of Alexander and Tracy Streets will be replaced, as quickly as it can possibly be done. We will not give in to hatred.
On behalf of the entire Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Committee, we want to say thanks to the witness who quickly called the police. Thanks to the Rochester Police Department for their quick response, and to all those who have reached out with words of support.
Hate crime charges are being considered by Rochester Police investigators. Those investigators are meeting with the project committee to determine the cost of the damage done to the statue, which could determine other charges against the pair.
"It was severely damaged because of the way that it was removed," Christopher said. "Rocked back and forth - it’s quite likely it was damaged throughout. There’s no way for us to tell anymore if it’s structurally sound."