A bronze bust of George Floyd in Union Square was vandalized in broad daylight on Oct. 3, just two days after it was unveiled to the public. The statue was restored the same day by Confront Art, the activist group that created the installation, but the defacement led many to recall the tensions of the 2020 racial justice protests sparked by Floyd’s murder.
An unidentified suspect splattered the 13-foot-tall sculpture with paint shortly after 10 a.m. before fleeing on a motorized skateboard. The New York City Police Department released surveillance video footage of the incident on Oct. 4, and its Hate Crimes Task Force is conducting an investigation.
The bust of Floyd is one of three statues installed at Union Square by Confront Art. The other two depict Breonna Taylor, a Black woman killed by police in March 2020, and John Lewis, the civil rights activist and congressperson who died in July 2020. The statue of Floyd was previously on display in Flatbush, Brooklyn, but after it was vandalized with white nationalist graffiti in June, Confront Art announced that it would be moved to Union Square.
Members of Confront Art and local residents scraped the paint off the statue and repainted its surface the same day. The organization also released a statement on social media condemning the vandalization.
“This continues to bring light to our mission that art is a conversation [catalyst], a place for public discourse, and through these acts we can hopefully overcome hate and find unity for the future,” the group wrote.
Confront Art co-founder Lindsay Eshelman said that she was encouraged by the community’s efforts during the eight-hour restoration process.
“Our generation can create the next narrative,” Eshelman said. “We don’t have to hold onto old monuments, we don’t have to hold onto tradition.”
After working to restore the statue, Eshelman and the rest of the Confront Art team left Union Square around 8 p.m. to eat dinner. When they returned an hour later, they spotted a large flag near the installment belonging to the Bronx chapter of Black Lives Matter. Stephon Baines, a Bronx resident and BLM activist, said the group has maintained a presence in Union Square since the vandalism.
“The consistency of hate is a steady reminder that there’s a lot of people out there who have this hatred in their heart,” Baines said. “[But] this time was a little different, because I really appreciated how the people reacted to it … I would love for people to understand that our fight is far from over.”
The Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation, which organized international protests following Floyd’s death, condemned the act of vandalism.
“This act of hate was meant to intimidate anyone who supports the idea that Black lives truly matter,” the group wrote to WSN. “We must not let them. Let’s continue our commitment to Black art and culture to disrupt the status quo, create meaningful change, and eradicate white supremacy. Art heals, grieves, educates and displays a collective vision for a fuller world and better future for all of us.”
Confront Art collaborated with the We Are Floyd Organization, the Breonna Taylor Foundation, and the John and Lillian Miles Lewis Foundation to create the statues as part of their SEEINJUSTICE project. LaCrown Johnson, a member of the We Are Floyd Organization and a close friend of Floyd’s brother, Terrence Floyd, said the vandalism underscored the power of the statues.
“Everyone dealt with the loss of these lives in different ways, in different countries, in different places, in different states,” Johnson said. “It’s not because of their lives, of who they were, it was because of how their lives were taken,” Johnson said. “They triggered something that people thought was impossible. In this case, the monument is the movement — art can change the world.”
Several NYU students said that the vandalism of the installment presented an opportunity for a renewed conversation and action around racial justice.
“I just want people to always remember George Floyd, never forget him and never stop fighting,” CAS first-year Angel Parcheman said. “We can’t stop fighting. We have to continue to act, continue to go to protests, and do mutual aid and support Black people no matter what.”
Stern first-year Jonathan Solomon said that he appreciates the statues’ presence in Union Square, and said that to him, they represent the NYU community’s participation in the pursuit of racial justice.
“One of the reasons I came to this university was because I knew it would be more progressive,” Solomon said. “Just because of the diversity of the student body, it would be more open-minded. Statues like that confirmed my belief.”
Lisa Coleman, NYU’s senior vice president for global inclusion and strategic innovation, condemned the defacement and addressed the impact of hate crimes on the university community.
“We must each recognize and acknowledge the significant impact these incidents continue to have on members of historically marginalized communities,” Coleman wrote. “Not only is it important to raise awareness, but as a community and as individual actors, we must also remain intentional, thoughtful, and action-oriented.”
Eshelman encouraged the NYU community to continue participating in the movement that the statues exemplify.
“I would love for NYU students to use these as a backdrop to continue to tell their story,” Eshelman said. “Take photos in front of them, have rallies in front of them, use them as a stage. Use them and the power they are bringing right now to fuel your inspiration and lift your voice.”
The statues of Floyd, Taylor and Lewis will continue to stand in Union Square until Oct. 30 as part of Confront Art’s SEEINJUSTICE project.
Contact Abby Wilson at [email protected]