Police are investigating after the statue of civil rights activist and legendary tennis player Arthur Ashe in Richmond, Virginia was found Wednesday vandalized with "White Lives Matter" graffiti. CBS affiliate WTVR reports that Ashe's memorial is the only statue on Monument Avenue that is not dedicated to a Confederate leader.
Video on social media showed a man who was at the memorial appearing to defend the White Lives Matter signs. The slogan is considered to be a white supremacist phrase that originated in 2015 as a racist response to the Black Lives Matter movement, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
He was captured on camera leaving and then returning to remove the Black Lives Matter signs that were already there while others were seen removing the racist slogan.
After being confronted by a group, the man, who was wearing a bandana with an American flag covering his face and blue shirt, said, "Don't all lives matter? Why is it okay to spray paint on this statue Black Lives Matter and not White Lives Matter, what's the difference?"
"I'm not a racist," he said. "I just don't agree with people desecrating our property."
Before leaving in a car with a South Carolina license plate, the man identified himself as "Everybody" and claimed to have gone to a local high school in the area. It is not known if he is the person responsible for the White Lives Matter slogan. However, WTVR aired footage of someone in a grey sweater and dark hat spray-painting them at the memorial.
Betsy Milburn was taking stroll with her friend Fatima Pashaei when they encountered the vandalized statue.
"My friend and I were walking and had just commented how nice that no one had tagged this particular statue and it was the only one that truly belonged as a monument," she told CBS News Thursday.
"I was shocked, dismayed, and angry," Pashaei told CBS News. "I think in a time when black people are hurting so much, to attack the one black statue on Monument Avenue, was deeply hurtful and offensive."
Pashaei, who has lived in the Virginia for the last 16 years, said she joined in the cleaning up of the mural afterwards. She noted that the man they came across "wasn't alone in his sentiments."
"Several people cursed at us when they saw us cleaning off the WLM graffiti," she said, adding that it appears there's a "lot of Confederate sympathizers" hanging around Memorial Avenue.
Ashe, who hails from Richmond, was the first black man to win U.S Open, Australian and Wimbledon titles. Three years after his death, his monument was erected in 1996 to counterbalance statues on the avenue filled with Virginian Confederate veterans.
Amid the protests that have followed the death of George Floyd, at least one of those statues has beenand the other four are subject to including the one representing Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.