Oregon Legislators Angered By Protest Perceived As Racist Mannequin Painted Black Portrayed State Official
A Capitol protest erupted into a racially inflamed confrontation Friday as legislators stormed out of the Statehouse to tear down an effigy of a black state official put up by demonstrators.
A man who said the state took away his daughter 10 years ago displayed a mannequin, painted black and draped with a noose around its neck, portraying Kay Toran, the director of the State Office of Services to Children and Families.
When legislators got wind of the effigy, they rushed out of the Capitol to square off with the protesters. Rep. Ron Adams, R-West Linn, untied the effigy from a pole where it had been displayed.
Adams said he went after the effigy because he saw it as a racist symbol.
“I thought that because it was a black effigy, it had become very personal,” Adams said. “I think it went well beyond freedom of speech.”
Adams tried to drag the mannequin - little more than a painted mannequin head on a wooden broom draped with a black garbage sack - inside the Capitol, but he gave it up to a protester who demanded it back.
The white protester who carried the effigy, Larry Carver of Eugene, said the display wasn’t meant to be racist. He said he was simply venting anger at Toran, whom he referred to as the “wicked witch” of the children’s agency.
“She is destroying the families of Oregon,” he told Rep. George Eighmey, D-Portland, during their exchange. Toran became agency director in 1994 and wasn’t in the top post at the time Carver said the state assumed custody of his daughter.
The confrontation occurred during a daylong demonstration against the children’s services agency policies on intervention in families. At its peak about 200 people, many of them disgruntled parents, attended the rally.
As the demonstrator carried the effigy in his arms, Eighmey slapped it out of his hand and rebuked him.
“You do not desecrate a woman of that stature,” Eighmey said. “That is unforgivable.”
With most of the legislative assembly nearby, Rep. Margaret Carter, who is black, stood above the effigy and reacted in disbelief at what she saw as a racist incident.
“This is not the Oregon that we love,” the Portland Democrat said.
Gov. John Kitzhaber saw the incident as “reprehensible,” spokeswoman Leslie Carlson said. Kitzhaber went to Toran’s office to voice his support.
Lawrence J. Dark, president of the Urban League of Portland, said the incident was a clear example of intolerance.
“We’ve got to remember that our children are looking at this,” Dark said. “We can’t expect our young people to act any better if this is how adults act.”
Toran was in her office, but declined to comment.
All calls were referred to Bob Mink, deputy director of the Oregon Department of Human Resources, the agency that oversees Services to Children and Families.
Mink said Toran was “very angry” about the effigy.
“Kay has worked very hard to make very progressive changes in this division,” Mink said. “I was very disappointed that, here in 1997, we have people trying to get their message across in a very destructive manner.”
Officials at the children’s services agency said they could recall nothing about Carver’s case a decade ago.