One of the most iconic statues in San Jose and the racial justice movement was defaced over the weekend.
The “Victory Salute” statue at San Jose State University—which depicts alumni and African American Olympic athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos—was found defaced on Saturday, university officials said in a campus-wide email. The statue, which has already been cleaned, is located at the school’s Tower Lawn.
A homeless man urinated and vomited on the statue, Capt. Frank Belcastro of the SJSU Police Department told San José Spotlight.
The man was seen by a passerby Saturday who reported the act to campus police. Belcastro said officers spotted the man trying to get into a campus building, and he ran from officers but was arrested a short time later.
“Based on an interview and the officers’ assessment of him, this was not a hate-based crime,” Belcastro said. “He didn’t appear to know what the symbolism of the statue is.”
Belcastro said the man told officers that he tried to kick the statue and push it over because he thought it represented human trafficking.
Belcastro said the man “probably has some kind of mental illness.”
Charlie Faas, the school’s vice president of administration and finance, wrote in the email that the statue had been defaced, but avoided permanent damage.
Faas and a school spokesperson both said the man was charged with vandalism, but Belcsatro said the man was not charged with vandalism because the statue wasn’t damaged.
Instead, the man was arrested for violating campus policies about urinating in public, for resisting arrest, and for two unrelated outstanding “unlawful paraphernalia” warrants, according to Belcastro and the college’s crime log. He was booked into the county main jail. It’s unclear why there are different pieces of information about the arrest.
Belcastro said the campus police do regular patrols of the area near the statue and there is a security camera recording the area.
“The incident was caught on video which allowed university police to be able to identify the suspect and they were able to make an arrest,” Michelle Smith McDonald, a university spokesperson, told San José Spotlight. The statue was “promptly cleaned up by our facility staff, she said.
The statue, which has stood since 2005, depicts Smith and Carlos each wearing one black glove and holding their fists high during a medal ceremony in the 1968 Olympics in protest of racism and inequality.
Faas said the statue is a defining space on campus.
“The depiction of the heroic and symbolic action of San Jose State University alumni, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, was a watershed moment for African Americans and the cause of racial justice and has helped SJSU become known as a campus that values and pursues social justice,” Faas said.
The university statue is the latest target in the South Bay.
In late January, a 440-pound statue depicting former Indian ruler Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj on a horse was reported stolen from Guadalupe River Park. The statue was discovered earlier this month at a metal scrapyard business.
Longtime SJSU sociology professor Scott Myers-Lipton, who is set to retire this summer, said he’s glad the university put lights around the landmark a few years ago. The university also installed a security camera nearby to help deter vandals after someone tried to remove the gold-color medal depicted on the Smith statue in 2014.
“For those of us at San Jose State and the people who love what Tommie and John did in 1968, and what they represent, of standing for both racial justice and for human rights, anything that’s hurtful to the statue is worrisome,” Myers-Lipton said.
Contact Joseph Geha at [email protected] or @josephgeha16 on Twitter.
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