RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Arthur Ashe mural in Battery Park was vandalized with tags related to a white supremacist group sometime between late Wednesday night and early Thursday morning, according to the Richmond Police Department.
A member of the 8News team saw that both sides of the tunnel had been vandalized on Thursday morning. “Patriot Front,” an American white supremacist group, was tagged on the mural. Richmond Parks and Recreation Department said symbols were found on both sides on Arthur Ashe’s face as well as inside the tunnel on excerpts about his life.
Richmond Parks and Recreation was notified about the vandalism via a tweet at 9:30 a.m. on Oct. 21, and then called police.
Police Chief Gerald M. Smith responded to the vandalism on Thursday afternoon saying, “Hate will not be tolerated in Richmond. We are asking for the public’s help by being another set of eyes on the murals and monuments of Richmond.”
According to Richmond Police, today’s reported incident is the second this week, following a report of vandalism of a mural on a structure in the 3000 block of Meadowbridge Road. Police said it was defaced with similar markings.
“Even just looking at the Twitter feed alone people were outraged that something like this could happen where they live,” said Tamara Jenkins, Public Information Manager for Richmond Parks and Rec.
Neighborhood resident Will Moore called the vandalism unacceptable.
“I just can’t see it coming from this neighborhood and obviously they’re targeting this neighborhood because of the mix of people,” Moore said.
Parks and Rec said they also immediately contacted Sir James Thornhill, one of the painters that worked on the mural in 2017. The department painted over the vandalism with white and black paint.
“This was something that we definitely felt could not stand and could not stay up long term,” Jenkins said.
Parks and Rec added they hope the painter will repaint it in the Spring. Thornhill spoke with 8news reporter Rachel Keller after surveying the markings left on his art.
Thornhill said that the act shows him where society is and he’s hurt. He called today ‘sad’ and ’emotional.’ Thornhill worked on the community project with U.N.I.T.Y. Street Project (USP) artists in the Summer of 2017 for three weeks. According to Thornhill, the neighbors and the area and the children who play nearby are upset as well.
“It’s one of those projects that united us,” said Thornhill.
Thornhill said that he is ready to re-paint as soon as he gets a date schedule with Parks and Rec.
The tennis legend and Richmond native is depicted right near the tennis courts he practiced on. The mural was also meant to revitalize the tunnel in the park.
“To have someone take time out of their evening to graffiti and paint over it… the question is why?” she asked.
Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-7th) denounced the vandalism in a tweet saying “This act of hate and aggression has no place in Virginia or our country.”
The Office of Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney sent this statement about the incident:
“Today, a mural to Richmond’s beloved humanitarian and native son, Arthur Ashe, was found vandalized with the insignia of a white nationalist hate group. Those responsible for this, and other like-minded shameful and cowardly acts, will be held accountable. Let me be clear: Hate will not be tolerated in our city.”
While it’s too early to determine what charges could be filed, an official from RPD said it could be anything from a misdemeanor felony for $1,000 in damages, or possibly a hate crime. Investigators said they may also reach out to homeland security.
If you see suspicious activity or have images or video footage that may aid in the investigation, please contact Richmond Police at (804) 646-5100. Anyone with information about vandalism can also call Crime Stoppers at (804) 780-1000. The P3 Tips Crime Stoppers app for smartphones also may be used.
This is a breaking story, stay with 8News for updates.