Several popular tourist spots in the nation’s capital were defaced last month. The base of the statue in the Lincoln Memorial, a pipe organ at Washington National Cathedral, and statues outside the Smithsonian Castle were spattered indiscriminately with green paint. People across the country were appalled.
Last week, New York City police got a report that a statue of Jackie Robinson, the first black player in Major League Baseball’s modern era, had been spray-painted in Brooklyn with racist graffiti. At the base of the statue that depicts white Brooklyn Dodgers teammate Pee Wee Reese putting his arm around Mr. Robinson, a vandal scribbled racial epithets, anti-Semitic rants, and pro-Hitler graffiti.
Although the incidents do not appear to be related, both raised public ire. In Washington, police arrested and charged a 58-year-old woman. In New York, a $50,000 reward is offered for information leading to the conviction of those who committed the vandalism.
The objects of the crimes in both cities have been cleaned, but the outrage over their desecration is still raw. If the intent of the Brooklyn vandal was to undermine the interracial friendship symbolized by the statue, it failed. If the Washington vandal meant to send some kind of anti-Lincoln or anti-church message, it’s hard to know what it was.
These public icons tell stories of America and symbolize its principles. Those who deface them commit a crime against not just property but also the nation’s values — and must be dealt with firmly.