Protesters in downtown Portland tore down the statues of two former presidents Sunday night and damaged a museum and several businesses during an event titled “Indigenous People’s Day of Rage.”
Just before 9 p.m. Sunday, a group of around 200 people gathered in Portland’s South Park Blocks and used ropes and a blowtorch to dislodge and topple a statue of President Theodore Roosevelt. Some people splattered red paint on the statue.
Roosevelt expressed hostility toward Native Americans, once saying: “I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indians are dead Indians, but I believe nine out of every 10 are ... .” He also implemented polices that weakened the treaty rights of tribes in the United States.
Minutes after taking down the Roosevelt statue, a group of people toppled a statue of President Abraham Lincoln and spray painted “Dakota 38″ on the base, a reference to 38 men executed under orders from Lincoln as part of the war carried out against the Dakota people in 1862.
Now Lincoln. The second statue is toppled in downtown Portland pic.twitter.com/dizgPMkFgf— Sergio Olmos (@MrOlmos) October 12, 2020
Protesters also caused damage to the Oregon Historical Society, the Portland State University Campus Public Safety office and several businesses. They smashed windows and spray-painted graffiti.
Around 9:40 p.m., Portland police declared the gathering a riot and began to disperse protesters. Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell said Monday morning that police had made three arrests — including the driver of the car used to topple one of the statues. He said someone in the crowd had also fired a gun through the front window of a restaurant.
Lovell joined Mayor Ted Wheeler, the Executive Director of the Oregon Historical Society Kerry Tymchuk and Rep. Tawna Sanchez, D-North and Northeast Portland, at a press conference Monday morning. The leaders accused the protesters of hijacking a day meant to celebrate Indigenous people and misdirecting their anger toward a museum that has in recent years confronted the ugly side of Oregon history.
“The destruction of the Oregon Historical Society in any way shape or form is unconscionable because that place is so amazingly a part of the actual truth of our state,” said Sanchez, who is Shoshone-Bannock, Ute and Carrizo. “We have to grow and learn from the past. We can not just dismiss it and make it go away and act as if something is going to be better afterwards.”
According to Tymchuk, most of the windows in the museum’s pavilion were destroyed. Some flares were thrown inside. And the Afro-American Heritage Bicentennial Commemorative Quilt, made by 15 Black women and on display in the pavilion, was taken. It was discovered by police a few blocks away from the museum, wet but intact.
Wheeler called protesters' actions “obscene.”
“The Oregon Historical Society has gone out of its way to reflect the truth of Oregon history,” Wheeler said. “It’s ironic that this was the institution that was chosen to be attacked by this anarchist behavior.”
Mayoral candidate Sarah Iannarone also denounced last night’s activities in a statement. Iannaorone, who has taken heat in the past for declining to condone the destruction of property at the nightly protests, called the targeting of the local museum “wrong headed.”
“Anonymous acts of destruction outside of any agreed-upon process are toxic, unaccountable behavior that has no place in our city,” she wrote. “We are not going to be governed by shooting paintballs. That’s not democracy, nor is it fair to those of us who believe in our public process.”
During the more than 120 nights of protests for racial justice in Portland, demonstrators have occasionally toppled statues they view as memorials to oppressors in United States history. Those have included memorials to former presidents Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.
As people destroyed property Sunday night, the demonstrators told people they could not film or take photos.
The destructive night in Portland coincided with Monday’s federally recognized holiday of Christopher Columbus Day. Oregon and many other cities and states choose to recognize the holiday as Indigenous People’s Day, instead of celebrating the extensive history of colonization that Columbus participated in and represents.
President Trump sent off a flurry of tweets Monday morning about the destruction, insisting Portland should “call in the Feds!” and that the “FBI and Law Enforcement must focus their energy on ANTIFA and the Radical Left.” The president did not comment on a rally held Sunday by his supporters in which several people were carrying firearms and used paintball guns to shoot at counterdemonstrators.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.