A group of protesters overthrew statues of former Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln and smashed the entrance to the Oregon Historical Society in Portland’s South Park blocks late Sunday before moving to other areas of downtown, smashing shop windows and doing other acts of destruction.
Police declared the event a riot and ordered the people raging through the city streets to disperse, but did not intervene directly until almost an hour after the first statue fell. The crowd dispersed as police cruisers flooded the area and officers in tactical gear made multiple arrests.
Protest organizers had promoted the event on social media as “Indigenous Peoples̵
The organizers had signaled their aggressive stance for the night, called for “direct action” and demanded that the video live streamers and photographers, who had become staples for such events, stay away.
The people in the crowd were repeatedly warned not to film. Passers-by who encountered the group were instructed by protesters to stop filming or delete photos, including an apartment resident with a laser beam in his eyes and a liquid thrown in his face as he watched a video of the from his terrace Scene seemed to be shooting.
The group, about 200 strong, marched through downtown Portland at one point and occupied all four lanes of West Burnside Street. Most dressed in black from head to toe. Many wore body armor, wore shields, or wielded night sticks and other weapons.
As the crowd reached the South Park Blocks, some threw chains on ropes at the Roosevelt Statue, a bronze sculpture officially titled “Theodore Roosevelt, Rough Rider,” while others took a blowtorch to its base and splattered it with red paint.
They started pulling until the statue rocked back and forth before falling off at 8:51 p.m. The crowd cheered as dance music played on a large portable speaker.
Throughout his life, Roosevelt has expressed hostility towards Native Americans, as Indian Country Today wrote in a statement of its attitudes and policies. He pushed for policies that encouraged assimilation into white culture, including the allotment system by which Native American land was allocated to those who became US citizens and the rest was made available to white settlers. The policy also weakened tribal governments, an effect reportedly welcomed by Roosevelt.
The group then turned to the nearby Abraham Lincoln statue and pulled it to the ground at 8:59 p.m. Sprayed on the base of the statue was “Dakota 38”, a reference to 38 Dakota men who were executed after the Dakota-US War of 1862 in the largest single day mass execution in American history. (Lincoln converted the same verdict passed by a military tribunal for 265 others.)
After some demonstrators toppled the statues, they smashed windows in the Oregon Historical Society and unfolded a banner that read, “Stop honoring colonial racist killers.” A mural on the adjoining Sovereign hotel building depicting the Lewis & Clark expedition was splattered with red paint.
Kerry Tymchuk, the historic society’s executive director, told a KOIN News reporter that no exhibits had been damaged.
Members of the crowd then broke windows and smashed a sign in the public safety office on Portland State University campus. The protesters then drove north along Southwest Fifth Avenue and smashed the windows of several storefronts and office towers along a distance of seven blocks.
During the racial justice protests that began after the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, protesters across the country targeted statues as symbols of longstanding oppression – particularly those of the Confederate leaders still standing in the south. Some were demolished while others were removed by the leaders of the cities in which they stood.
In Portland, several statues that appeared to be possible targets were preventively removed during the protests.
The statues of Roosevelt and Lincoln were designed by Dr. Henry Waldo Coe, who ran the Morningside Morningside Mental Health Clinic in East Portland near what is now Mall 205, was dedicated as a gift to the city.
In June, a group of protesters tore down a statue of the Thomas Jefferson statue in front of its namesake Portland High School. The third President of the United States enslaved more than 600 people in his lifetime. Days later, another group tore down a statue of George Washington from northeast Portland, who also owned enslaved people.
In recent weeks, police have launched early “direct action” protests to make arrests, including more than 26 arrests on Saturday when police said demonstrators blocked a street and did not break up on orders.
Protesters gathered in downtown Portland the previous Sunday to show support from the police and President Donald Trump. Some appeared to be carrying firearms; others carried pepper spray cans and paintball-style compressed air guns.
Videos of the scene showed violent confrontations with counter-demonstrators, with objects thrown from both sides and right-wing protesters firing paintballs at their antagonists.
The police intervened a short time later and prevented people from approaching the departing right-wing group. A police spokesman said no crimes had been reported and no arrests had been made.
Staff writer Jamie Goldberg contributed to this report.
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