Credit: Graham Moomaw/The Daily Progress
Charlottesville officials say they’re not sure who vandalized a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee with a message related to the Occupy Charlottesville movement, but they are asking anyone with knowledge of the incident to contact police immediately.
On Sunday afternoon, the words “Occupy will rise again!” could be seen painted on the base of the Lee statue in black letters large enough to be legible to vehicular traffic on Market Street. City police say they’re not sure exactly when the vandalism occurred, but a caller alerted them to the situation around 3 p.m. Sunday.
The Occupy Charlottesville group camped out in Lee Park from mid-October through November, but 18 protesters were arrested when the city chose to reinstate the park’s 11 p.m. curfew on Nov. 30. The group has yet to set up another permanent encampment, and it remains unclear whether they plan to do so in the future.
As of 11 a.m. Monday, police said they had no suspects or arrests to report, and they’re not sure whether the message was written by someone affiliated with Occupy Charlottesville.
“Nobody knows and I think it would be inappropriate to speculate...,” city police Lt. Ronnie Roberts said.
Roberts said there are no security cameras pointed at Lee Park, and he encouraged anyone with information about the perpetrators to call CrimeStoppers at 977-4000.
The occupiers disavowed the statue vandalism in a statement posted on the group’s Facebook page Sunday night.
“Occupy Charlottesville in no way condones the vandalism of any public or private property,” the statement reads. “It has been clearly stated that violence towards others (both verbal and physical) and destruction of property violate our core values… The vandalism of the statue in Lee Park was NOT an Occupy Charlottesville action.”
In comments on the post, some occupy members speculated that the vandalism could’ve been done by someone looking to discredit the movement while others debated whether or not property damage truly classifies as violence.
According to a schedule of weekend events posted on the occupy website, activists were scheduled to meet at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library’s central location next to Lee Park for a “postmortem” discussion of the group’s eviction from the park.
Mayor Dave Norris, who has voiced support for the occupy movement’s goals but taken heat from activists for the city’s eventual decision to return Lee park for its former state, criticized the vandalism in an interview Monday.
“It was a cowardly and juvenile act, regardless of motivation,” Norris said. “Whether it was designed to make the occupy movement look bad or designed to generate support for the occupy movement, it was a pretty cowardly thing to do. But it’s certainly not the first time the city has had to clean up graffiti.”
City officials said attempts to clean the statue using graffiti remover were unsuccessful Monday, possibly due to cold weather, but crews will try pressure washing Tuesday morning. City spokesman Ric Barrick said the city has dealt with similar situations before, and has several different options for cleaning the statue.
“We’ll just keep trying until we find something that works,” Barrick said.
As a temporary fix, city officials placed a black cloth over the graffiti, Barrick said.
Both the park itself and the Lee statue were gifts to the city from philanthropist Paul G. McIntire, a Charlottesville native who made his fortune on the New York Stock Exchange and went on to donate nearly $1.2 million in gifts to the city, Albemarle County and the University of Virginia, according to articles in The Daily Progress archive.
McIntire donated the land to the city in memory of his parents in 1917, and the statue was presented to the city in 1924 during a Confederate reunion, according to a history of the park posted on the city website.
McIntire died in New York in 1952. In addition to Lee Park, he gave the city the land for McIntire, Washington and Jackson parks. He also gave the city the Lewis and Clark statue on West Main Street and gave the university the George Rogers Clark monument at the intersection of West Main and Jefferson Park Avenue, which the occupiers considered as a potential campsite before being warned by UVa that they would not be welcome there.