NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - A statue of George Floyd that was installed in Brooklyn less than a week ago was spray-painted and marked with a white supremacist group's logo in an act of vandalism that the police were investigating as a hate crime, officials said on Thursday (June 24).
The defacing of the statue, which was unveiled on Flatbush Avenue last Saturday to commemorate the Juneteenth holiday, was discovered by officers early on Thursday, the police said. It was covered with black spray paint and marked with a stencil for Patriot Front, a white supremacist group with a small but growing presence in New York City.
"It's at the epitome of not only anti-blackness and racism, but it is also about the lack of even basic human decency about the life of George Floyd," said Mr Imani Henry, a lead organiser with Equality for Flatbush, a local community group that opposes gentrification in the area and fights against police brutality.
"For someone to desecrate an innocent person's tribute is just beyond the pale," Mr Henry said.
The overnight act of vandalism came about a day before former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who was convicted in April of murdering Mr Floyd, a black man, is scheduled to be sentenced.
"I'm saddened by it," said Mr Chris Carnabuci, the artist who created the sculpture as part of a project commemorating Mr Floyd's death and the attention it drew to persistent racism in the criminal justice system.
"I'm not completely shocked," he added.
Mr Carnabuci said he knew the sculpture would elicit strong feelings but had not expected it to be defaced so swiftly.
"It was so quickly afterwards that it happened," he said. "Maybe that was a surprise."
Investigators have identified four suspects who can be seen on surveillance video approaching the statue around 3.30am local time on Thursday and then leaving in a vehicle, according to a law enforcement official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation was continuing. No arrests had been made as at Thursday afternoon, the police said.
Patriot Front has its roots in a national neo-Nazi organisation. The Southern Poverty Law Centre, which tracks extremism in the United States, has designated it as a hate group.
Patriot Front's presence in New York City and elsewhere in the north-east is mostly reflected in its stencils, which members and supporters often spray-paint on telephone poles and other public property. Many of the group's tags have been seen in South Brooklyn in recent years.
At least twice, the law enforcement official said, those with ties to Patriot Front are believed to have unveiled large banners bearing the group's slogans and other information across major avenues in New York City.
Earlier this month, a mural of Mr Floyd in Philadelphia was defaced in a similar fashion, and tagged with the Patriot Front logo.
In New York, the group has come under the scrutiny of the police department's Racially and Ethnically Motivated Extremism unit, a special task force that tracks the presence of hate groups in the city, the law enforcement official said.
Mr Carnabuci said on Thursday that there were people working to remove the spray paint and fix any other damage to the statue, which is to remain in Brooklyn for several weeks before a planned move to Union Square in Manhattan.
"It does go to show you that the division is out there," he said. "The polarisation exists."