Sarasota statue's #MeToo vandalism sparks conversation

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While police were trying to find the person who painted "#MeToo" on a famous statue in Sarasota, the crime led to a broader conversation about an iconic moment in American history.

The "Unconditional Surrender" statue depicts a sailor kissing a nurse right after the Japanese surrendered to end World War II. The sculpture is based on the famous 1945 photograph taken in New York's Times Square. 

Early Tuesday morning, police reported that “#MeToo” had been written on the nurses’ leg in red paint, referencing the movement to spotlight sexual assault.

"Being a military veteran, it bothers me because it’s a historical point in military history where a major war had ended," said Aaron Barne, who had brought buckets to clean the statue. “And this is how they memorialize it.” 

“That’s just crazy. I don’t know why people would destroy something like this,” offered Vicki Barnes, a tourist from Texas. “People are just so crazy these days.”

Gorilla Kleen, the company that regularly cleans the statue, responded with special detergents. 

"We were able to take it off slowly without damaging the statue's paint," said John Cloud of Gorilla Kleen. 

While not condoning the vandalism, the communications officer of the Tampa chapter of the National Organization For Women says it's worth a conversation. 

"I think it's really important to open the conversation into what consent really is," said Erika Levy. 

What's the backstory of the kiss? In an interview before her death in 2016, the woman in the nurse's uniform, Greta Friedman, said, "It wasn't my choice to be kissed. The guy just came over and grabbed me." 

The sailor, George Mendonsa -- who died Sunday at the age of 95 -- told an interviewer, "I'd had a few drinks and it was just plain instinct. I grabbed her." 

Levy said it's still worth talking about more than 70 years later.

"The conversation of consent, responsibility, permission, and bodily autonomy,” added Levy. "I think it has us talking about it, but I do wish it had been in a different way." 

Sarasota police say there is no surveillance video of the vandalism. They’re asking anyone with information to call them. 

MORE: Interview with Greta Zimmer Friedman (8/23/2005)