Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler criticized people for co-opting Indigenous Peoples Day to engage in violence that saw the toppling of two statues and damage to multiple buildings, including one that the mayor considered an ironic target.
On the eve of Indigenous Peoples Day, as Portland has traded Columbus Day for, a group of about 300 people ventured downtown intent on “criminal acts of violence and mayhem,” Police Chief Chuck Lovell said. In an event marketed as the Indigenous Peoples “Day of Rage,” the group used straps, chains and a vehicle to tear down statues of Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. They also damaged buildings and threw flares into the Oregon Historical Society building.
The society’s gone “out of its way” to reflect the whole truth of Oregon’s history and educate the public about the “good, the bad and the ugly,” Wheeler said. “So it’s ironic this was the institution that was chosen to be attacked by this anarchist behavior. These acts are obscene. They’re an affront to the values of this community, [and] as mayor, I will never tolerate or condone violence or criminal destruction.”
The flares extinguished themselves and didn’t do any “serious damage” to the building, although several windows were broken. State Representative Tawna Sanchez, who is Native American, called it “unconscionable” because it is so “amazingly a part of the actual truth of our state.”
Along with the damage done to the windows, Kerry Tymchuk, executive director of the Oregon Historical Society, said one item was stolen on Sunday: a beautiful African American heritage bicentennial quilt. Fifteen African American women worked for three years on the quilt, which police were able to recover. Tymchuk was hopeful the “priceless piece of history” could once again be displayed.
Three people were arrested on Sunday, including one who Lovell said was driving the car that helped tear down the Roosevelt statue, which has been in place for almost a century.
Protesters also spray-painted “Dakota 38” onto the Lincoln statue. It’s a reference to the 38 Native Americans who were executed in the Dakota War of 1862 in Mankato, Minnesota. Originally, more than 300 men were sentenced to be hanged, but, having reviewed trial transcripts, Lincoln wrote to Henry Sibley, then governor of Minnesota, with 39 names of men to be executed. One was granted a last-minute reprieve.
Instead of destroying or dismissing the past, Sanchez advocated for people learning and growing from it. It’s the way to make the world better and if people are interested in changing the statues, she said, it must be done through the city process. “We don’t have to do it by tearing things down because it’s not helping,” Sanchez added.
Portland has experienced consistent unrest and violence for the past five months, and while the situation is improving, Wheeler said there are “flashpoints” where hundreds of people show up to engage in acts of criminal destruction. The response to violence is multi-faceted and begins with officials and community leaders denouncing it, Wheeler explained. Those responsible for the criminal destruction must also be held accountable in “targeted arrests.”
Portland police were aware of the planned destruction ahead of time and allocated resources accordingly, Lovell said. He encouraged anyone with information to reach out to the police department and kept the possibility of additional arrests open.
“These events late at night, they purport to have a racial justice nexus but they’re not that,” Lovell said. “They’re about violence and criminal destruction and they’re really hurting our community and we all deserve better.”
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