RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Arthur Ashe statue on Monument Avenue was tagged with graffiti Wednesday, first with the initials “WLM” for White Lives Matter and eventually covered with “BLM” for Black Lives Matter.
Video shows two people scrubbing off White Lives Matter, which was spray painted on the statue’s pillar, graffiti before a car pulls up in front of the memorial. A man is seen getting out the car and opening his trunk to get out a wet rag. He begins to wipe the “BLM” graffiti and a dispute ensues.
“Why is it OK to spray paint black lives matter and not white lives matter? What’s the difference? I’m not a racist,” you can hear the man saying in the video. According to Betsy Milburn, who took the video, he also said that he had the right to deface this statue because the other statues were defaced.
8News’ Alex Thorson reported that Ashe’s nephew, David Harris Jr., walked up during the confrontation and attempted to de-escalate the situation.
Vandalism on the Ashe statue comes after several Confederate monuments across Richmond were also tagged with graffiti, with some being toppled over. Overnight, the Confederate Howitzer statue was torn down by protesters.
“It was expected,” Harris told Thorson. “No statue, no building is exempt from being tagged however, folks are here to clean it up. It just shows that we know who is really truly important and who are real heroes are in this city, in this state, in this country and in this world.”
Richmond police said they are pursuing a lead in the investigation after responding to the statue late this morning. Officers encountered a group cleaning the graffiti, police told 8News.
“These folks are out here volunteering in the rain to clean it and I applaud them,” Harris continued. “I say thank you to all of you.”
“The work that he did to raise equality amongst folks, his outspokenness against apartheid, his world champion ship stature, he deserved better than this,” a woman who was washing the graffiti off told 8News.
The monument’s sculptor himself, Paul Dipasquale, stopped by the monument Wednesday afternoon. He was visibly emotional. Dipasquale said he was planning to clean the graffiti off until he saw it was already being done.
“The monument means a lot to a lot of people and it meant a lot to me,” he said, adding that when he was a Richmond citizen in 1993, Ashe was “largely ignored by a large population of Richmond.” The sculptor said he’s happy to see that “times have changed.”
“That’s what the Arthur Ashe monument was meant to be, for all people. When we put it up in 1996, that was the message and that was the celebration. That will always hold true,” Dipasquale said.
Ashe, a tennis legend and Richmond native, is a beloved figure in the city. The monument was erected in 1996 and the city renamed a major thoroughfare after Ashe last June.
“The person who tagged it lacks true understand of what my uncle stood for,” Harris told 8News.
WATCH: Full video of the encounter around the Arthur Ashe statue in Richmond
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