ROCKVILLE, Md. — Vandals have defaced a Confederate statue that has come under scrutiny in recent weeks as the community debates whether to remove the monument from county-owned land in Rockville.
The spray paint damage to the monument was discovered Monday morning, Rockville police say.
In black paint, the vandals scrawled “Black Lives Matter,” the phrase that became a rallying cry after police shot and killed an unarmed teen in Ferguson, Missouri. Red spray paint also marred the bottom of the pedestal to the Confederate monument, which sits next to the historic Red Brick Courthouse in downtown Rockville.
“It’s a fairly large area,” said Rockville Police Major Michael England of the damage. “It’s on the front and on the side.”
Police are investigating whether any surveillance cameras captured the vandals.
Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett, who had ordered the statue’s removal two weeks ago, called the vandalism “a despicable act” and said it’s not in keeping with the county’s history of “civil discourse.”
Leggett, the first black man elected to serve as the county’s executive and who is also a Vietnam veteran, said the defacement of the statue “dishonors our veterans.” And he urged the Rockville City police to “exhaust all remedies in bringing those responsible for this crime to justice.”
He called for the statue’s removal after the deaths of nine black church members in Charleston, South Carolina, which also provoked calls to remove the Confederate flag from public buildings and cemeteries around the country.
In Rockville, the life-size bronze sculpture depicts a Confederate cavalry private and was erected in 1913 next to the now-vacant courthouse to commemorate the Montgomery County residents who served the confederacy.
At a regularly scheduled briefing with reporters, Montgomery County Council President George Leventhal said he was “disappointed” by the vandalism, but not surprised given the national dialogue surrounding Confederate symbols and place names since the Charleston killings.
“Vandalism is never appropriate,” Leventhal said. “It’s not at all surprising that images of the Confederacy would get a response.”
The county is in discussions about whether and where the statue should be moved. And Leventhal agrees that the statue should leave the historic courthouse grounds.
“To have it on county property, in the heart of the county seat implies an endorsement” of the sentiment etched into the base of the statue, he said. “We don’t love ‘the thin gray line’ in 2015. This is a different day.”
The inscription reads:
“That we through life may not forget to love the thin gray line.”
Leventhal said a group of ‘stakeholders’ was asked by the council to meet and discuss the possible relocation of the statue. Leventhal declined to identify members of the group, but said the closed-door meeting is designed to allow for free discussion of a sometimes difficult subject.
Nancy Pickard, executive director of a local historical organization Peerless Rockville, doesn’t want to see the statue mothballed. She says it generates dialogue on one of the most difficult chapters of American history.
Although the statue sits on county land, it also lies within the Courthouse Square Historic District and any change to its location is subject to approval by Rockville Historic District Commission, Pickard says.
Alexandria’s mayor has said that his city will also likely examine whether Confederate statues and street names are still appropriate in 2015.
WTOP’s Amanda Iacone contributed to this report from Washington.