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Suspects in statue vandalism left message

DETROIT -- Pictures of two slain white police officers, signed "Courtesy of Fighting Whities," were found near "the fist" sculpture memorializing boxing great Joe Louis that was vandalized with white paint, according to a police report released yesterday.

The two men arrested in the case told police officers who stopped them: "We did it for you guys," the report said.

Brett J. Cashman, 45, and John T. Price, 27, both of Superior Township, pleaded not guilty yesterday to charges of malicious destruction of property.

Magistrate Steve Lockhart ordered each man held on $10,000 bond. He also said the men, if released, must be electronically tethered.

Lockhart said the vandalism, discovered early Monday at the monument to the black heavyweight champion, was "on a par with cross burning and hate speech, not political speech, and not just speech, but an affirmative threat."

Price's attorney, David Rosenberg, said he thought the men may have been trying to make a political statement. If so, it would be wrong to put someone in jail for that, said Marc Beginin, attorney for Cashman, who serves as a parks commissioner for Superior Township.

"This country has a long history of political activism," Beginin said.

The photocopies of pictures of two Detroit police officers killed while on duty last week were found at the base of the sculpture. Written on the photocopies was: "Courtesy of Fighting Whities," the police report said.

Both slain officers were white. A black man was charged with murder.

The 8,000-pound sculpture -- a 24-foot-long arm and fist suspended from a frame -- was seen by many people as an assertion of black political power and triumph over injustice.

The two suspects "haven't given police an exact reason why they did it," Officer Glen Woods, a department spokesman, told the Detroit Free Press. "An investigator said one of them has alluded to the fist being representative of violence in Detroit."

Police stopped the suspects in suburban Romulus after authorities were tipped off by a motorist who saw two men covered with white paint leaving the city before dawn Monday, Romulus police Lieutenant Cora Semrau said.

Firefighters used high-powered hoses to remove the gloss paint from the sculpture. Workers later removed the remaining paint after consulting with the Detroit Institute of Arts, so as not to damage the piece.

The Alabama-born Louis, who moved to Detroit with his family when he was 12, gained fame by knocking out Max Schmeling of Germany for the heavyweight title in June 1938.

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