Protests in Portland, Oregon, have been going for nearly five months. Last week, protesters-turned-rioters overturned large bronze statues and vandalized the Oregon Historical Society. The monuments are the latest statues to come down in a wave of removed monuments sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.
Demonstrations in Portland over Floyd’s killing (“George Floyd Protests”) began in May 2020. Cities around the world have also held protests. Such public demonstrations are not wrong, if held peacefully and lawfully. Free people must be allowed to express concerns over injustice, wrongdoing, and the need for positive change.
However, many of the Portland protests have turned violent. They’ve involved rioting as well as clashes with police and other citizens. Arson, looting, tear gas, vandalism, and weapons have been part of many rallies. At least one person has died.
Protest organizers call the most recent Portland event the “Indigenous Peoples Day of Rage.” It was intended as a declaration of anger toward Columbus Day, which is named after 15th-century Italian explorer Christopher Columbus. Some Native American advocates say Columbus spurred centuries of massacres of indigenous people in the Americas.
The destroyed sculptures in Portland were of former presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. The group threw chains around Roosevelt’s statue, officially titled Theodore Roosevelt, Rough Rider. They splashed red paint on the monument, wrote “Black Lives Matter” on Roosevelt’s face, and used a blowtorch on the statue’s base.
Historians say 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. . . .”
Protesters spray-painted “Dakota 38” on the base of Lincoln’s statue. The tag references 38 Native American Dakota men Lincoln approved to have hanged after a violent conflict with white settlers in Minnesota.
The crowd also smashed windows at the Oregon Historical Society and later moved on to the Portland State University Campus Public Safety office.
Police arrested three people after the protests. Officers say multiple businesses were damaged, including a restaurant with at least two bullet holes in its front windows.
A quilt sewn by 15 black women from Portland was among the items damaged at the Oregon Historical Society, says executive director Kerry Tymchuk.
Each square of the Afro-American Heritage Bicentennial Commemorative Quilt honors a black person or moment in history that impacted African Americans. The quilt was found a few blocks away. It is being assessed for damage.
“As we clean up broken glass, scrub paint, and make plans to ensure safety in our building, we also, as always, welcome critique of our work,” says Tymchuk. She adds graciously but clearly, “We would be grateful to have constructive feedback.”
Do not envy a man of violence and do not choose any of his ways. — Proverbs 3:31
(A statue of former President Abraham Lincoln lies on the ground in Portland’s South Park Block following a night of protests. Sean Meagher/The Oregonian via AP)