Donald Trump Jr. has shared a viral meme that makes the unsupported claim that a statue of abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass in Rochester, New York, was torn down by “Democrats.” Police have made no arrests, and are “still looking into” who committed the vandalism.
Cities across the U.S. erupted in protests and riots after George Floyd, a Black man, died after a white police officer knelt on his neck during an arrest in Minneapolis on May 25. The protests have sparked debates over whether monuments to Confederate generals and other historical figures should be removed. Protesters have vandalized and toppled some statues, and some local officials have taken them down.
On July 5, a statue of abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass in a Rochester, New York, park was torn from its base and left 50 feet away near the Genesee River gorge. Douglass had escaped slavery in Maryland and lived in Rochester for 25 years. The statue was toppled on the anniversary of a renowned speech — “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” — that Douglass delivered in 1852.
On July 6, Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son, shared a meme that makes the unsupported claim that “Democrats” vandalized the Douglass statue.
Trump Jr. posted the image on Facebook showing the empty base where the Douglass statue once stood, superimposed with a photo of Douglass and the text: “REPUBLICAN FREDERICK DOUGLASS ESCAPED SLAVERY AND BECAME A LEADER IN THE ABOLITION MOVEMENT[.] DEMOCRATS JUST DESTROYED HIS MONUMENT… ON THE ANNIVERSARY OF HIS MOST FAMOUS SPEECH.”
That same day, President Donald Trump weighed in on Twitter, saying: “Statue of Frederick Douglass Torn Down in Rochester…This shows that these anarchists have no bounds!”
The Facebook meme has been shared thousands of times on Facebook, and a headline on the National File website claims “Black Lives Matter Rioters” toppled the statue.
But there is no basis to support claims that “Democrats” or “anarchists” or “rioters” tore down the Douglass statue.
Jacqueline Shuman, a Rochester police spokeswoman, told the New York Times on July 8 that the police department is “still looking into” the vandalism. She said the police do not have any evidence to confirm the removal was related in some way to the date of Douglass’s speech, and they don’t know who vandalized it.
City police detectives asked for the public’s help in identifying the vandals in a July 9 tweet.
Rochester officials did not return our calls and email requests for further comment on the investigation.
This is not the first time a Douglass statue in Rochester has been vandalized. The Rochester Democrat & Chronicle reported in December 2018 that two college students were suspended from school and criminally charged after they broke a different statue of Douglass from its base and tried to run off with it.
We will continue to follow this story and update any progress in the police department’s investigation.
Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here.
Craig, Gary and Ryan Miller. “Frederick Douglass statue vandalized on anniversary of famous Fourth of July Rochester speech.” Rochester Democrat & Chronicle. 6 Jul 2020.
“Find Frederick Douglass in Rochester, NY.” Visit Rochester, NY. 2 Feb 2017.
Gold, Michael. “Who Tore Down This Frederick Douglass Statue?” New York Times. 7 Jul 2020.
“How Statues Are Falling Around the World.” New York Times. 25 Jun 2020.
Lahman, Sean and Sarah Taddeo. “What we know now about vandalism of Frederick Douglass statue.” 17 Dec 2018. Rochester Democrat & Chronicle.
Neuman, Scott. “Police Bodycam Transcripts: George Floyd Pleaded 20 Times That He Couldn’t Breathe.” NPR. 8 Jul 2020.
Pereira, Ivan. “Here’s where Confederate statues and memorials have been removed in the US.” ABC News. 19 Jun 2020.
Rivero, Eduardo. “Black Lives Matter Rioters Topple Statue of Black Abolitionist Legend Frederick Douglass.” National File. 8 Jul 2020.