PORTLAND – Protesters in Portland overturned statues of former Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln and vandalized the Oregon Historical Society in a declaration of “rage” toward Columbus Day.
Protest organizers dubbed the event “Indigenous Peoples Day of Rage,” in response to Monday’s federal holiday named after 15th-century Italian explorer Christopher Columbus, a polarizing figure who Native American advocates have said spurred centuries of genocide against Indigenous populations in the Americas.
The group Sunday night threw chains around Roosevelt’s statue, officially titled “Theodore Roosevelt, Rough Rider.” They splashed red paint on the monument and used a blowtorch on the statue’s base, news outlets reported.
The statue was pulled down by the crowd just before 9 p.m. The group later turned their attention toward Lincoln’s statue, pulling it down about eight minutes later.
Historians have said 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, referencing the 38 Dakota men Lincoln approved to have hanged after the men were involved in a violent conflict with white settlers in Minnesota.
After toppling the statues, the crowd smashed windows at the Oregon Historical Society and later moved onto the Portland State University Campus Public Safety office.
A quilt sewn by 15 Black women from Portland in the mid-1970s was among the items damaged, Oregon Historical Society executive director Kerry Tymchuk said.
Each square of the Afro-American Heritage Bicentennial Commemorative Quilt honors a Black individual or moment in history. The quilt that had been given to the museum for safekeeping was found a few blocks away and will be assessed for damage, Tymchuk said.
“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,” Tymchuk wrote. “We would be grateful to have constructive feedback from all those who are willing and able to aid OHS in fulfilling our vision of an Oregon story that is meaningful to all Oregonians.”
Three people were arrested by police who said in a statement that multiple businesses were damaged, including a restaurant that had at least two bullets fired through its front windows.
In New Mexico, protesters on Monday tore down a historical monument as part of demonstrations in the state and in neighboring Arizona meant to mark Indigenous Peoples Day. Protesters used a rope and chain to topple an obelisk in Santa Fe long a point of contention for its references to the “heroes” who died in battle with “savage Indians.”
The monuments are the latest statues to come down in a wave of removed monuments and protests sparked by the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.
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