A protest too far? Widespread criticism follows Sunday riot
Protesters who have repeatedly attacked government buildings, police and private businesses may have gone too far Sunday night, Oct. 11, drawing widespread condemnation — including from current allies — for vandalizing the Oregon Historical Society and toppling statues of Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt in the South Park Blocks.
The violence was denounced with both Mayor Ted Wheeler and challenger Sarah Iannarone, President Donald Trump and liberal Portland-area state Rep. Tawna Sanchez, and even a lawyer who represents protest legal observers on social media.
"I think the most important thing we can do as a community right now is make it clear that if you are in our community and you are engaged in violence or criminal destruction, you are not standing with. You are opposing us. You are working against our values and our sensibilities as a city," Wheeler said at a Monday morning press conference.
His opponent on the November ballot, Iannarone, said much the same thing as part of a statement supporting a public process for removing problematic public art.
"People are hurting and that pain is valid. But anonymous acts of destruction outside of any agreed-upon process are toxic, unaccountable behavior that has no place in our city," Iannarone said Monday.
Wheeler also noted that Trump quickly tweeted about the violence, writing, "Taking advantage of fools. Law & Order! Portland, call in the Feds!" In another tweet, Trump added "These are Biden fools. ANTIFA RADICALS. Get them FBI, and get them now!"
Appearing with Wheeler, Sanchez — who is an Indigenous woman and lawmaker — criticized the protesters for the violence on the eve of Indigenous Peoples Day, which is what the City Council renamed Columbus Day in 2015.
"The fact that someone would hijack Indigenous Peoples Day to commit violence is not appropriate," Sanchez said.
Oregon Historical Society Director Kerry Tymchuk also spoke at the press conference, noting his organization presents the state's history fairly, including the racism in its past. He noted the Winter 2019 issue of its quarterly magazine was entirely dedicated to the history of white supremacy and resistance in Oregon. Authors discussed topics including whiteness, settler colonialism, racial exclusion and land ownership, abolitionism and anti-slavery politics, violence, labor and organizing, white supremacist organizations, and forms of resistance to white supremacy.
Windows and glass doors were smashed at the Historical Society's headquarters, 1200 S.W. Park Ave. According to Portland Police, at least three lit flares were thrown into the structure in an apparent attempt to start fires. The flares went out before causing significant damage.
The Portland Indian Leaders Roundtable also denounced the vandalism, saying, "The destruction at the Oregon Historical Society was so very disappointing, especially given the great care they have given to their most recent exhibit that displays Native American history so honestly and respectfully. We thank them for their deep consultation with tribal nations to create this exhibit and wish them the best in the repairs to their building."
Tymchuk also said the only exhibit that was damaged was a historic quilt made by African American woman to celebrate America's Bicentennial. The quilt was stolen and left on the wet ground several blocks away.
The statues torn down in the Park Blocks include one of Roosevelt, which was erected in 1922, and one of Lincoln, erected in 1928.
According to Police Chief Chuck Lovell, Portland State University's Public Safety Building was damaged and several businesses also were vandalized, including a restaurant that was hit by gunfire, another restaurant, a coffee shop and a bank. Lovell said police had arrested three people, including the driver of a car that helped pull down one of the statues in the park.
"We are five months into this and we still have a fairly high level of violence taking place," Lovell said of the ongoing unrest. "We need to all come together and be mindful of what we want as a city (and) what we're willing to tolerate. These events, late at night, they purport to have a racial justice nexus, but they're not that. They're about violence and criminal destruction and they're really hurting our community. We all deserve better."
Wheeler added that there were many instances of people bragging about the destruction on social media late last night and Monday morning. He said their actions were instead an attack on institutions that support the oppressed people protesters are defending.
Violent protesters "are not engaged in any activity that has any relationship whatsoever to racial justice or equity," the mayor said. "They are purely engaged in violence and criminal destruction for the sake of violence and criminal destruction."
Reaction to the destruction was notable on Twitter, as not just conservative voices but progressive activists and others typically supportive of Black Lives Matter and protesters expressed dismay.
Zakir Khan, an activist, wrote, "Disappointed to see the Oregon Historical Society be attacked. It's been a place for many stories to be told and many discussions to be had."
In another tweet, he noted that nobody seemed to be paying attention to the visit to Portland on Sunday of armed right-wing protesters, some of whom reportedly shot paintballs at counter-protesters. He wrote that while museums could have multiple positive and negative aspects, "none of this is black and white."
Elliott Young, a history professor at Lewis & Clark College who researches racial disparities and has been highly critical of the Portland police, responded to Khan, "Yes, and having that conversation can't happen by breaking windows and torching buildings."
Laura Jedeed, who has extensively reported on the protests and far-right activists, wrote "Lincoln was FAR FROM PERFECT, but this makes me sad and no one can stop me from feeling sad about it."
Athul Acharya, a lawyer working with ACLU of Oregon on a federal lawsuit on behalf of legal observers and journalists injured in the Portland protests, wrote, "Without commenting on the merits, if I were trying my level best to turn the tide of public sentiment against the protests, I would try to convince them to take down a statue of Abraham Lincoln."
Some on Twitter defended the action against Lincoln, calling him a "colonizer," and several pointing to his approval of the hanging of 38 Dakota fighters who'd been sentenced to death by a military tribunal for allegedly participating in a massacre of nearly 500 white settlers during what's known as the Dakota War of 1862. Lincoln did so after commuting the death sentences of 265 other Dakota sentenced to death, concluding the evidence was weak.
A 2012 article in The Nation magazine noted that Lincoln later ordered only one execution of a Confederate for war crimes following a war that saw 400,000 Union soldiers die. A 2018 piece by the Snopes.com fact-checking site noted that, at the time, Lincoln was warned that failure to approve all 300 executions would lead to a vigilante massacre of all indigenous peoples in Minnesota, "old men, women and children."
Commissioner Hardesty: What riots in Portland?
Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty denies that riots have been regularly breaking out during more than 100 days of political protests in Portland.
Answering questions from reporters on Wednesday, Oct. 7, Hardesty said only one riot took place in downtown Portland on May 28, following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody. Despite extensive media coverage of protesters trying to set fire to court, law enforcement and police union buildings throughout the city, Hardesty said the rest of the violence was caused by the police.
"I won't buy into that narrative," Hardesty said of the riot characterization. "People are standing up because they've had enough."
Hardesty admitted some criminal activity had taken place during the protests, however.
Most Oregon voters disagree with Hardesty, according to an early September poll by DHM Research. It found that 55% of voters believe that "riot" is a more accurate description than "protest" of the ongoing demonstrations in Portland, compared to 37% who disagree.
The poll also found that only 29% of Oregon voters feel the Portland police have used too much force.
Hardesty made her comments during a press briefing on Rethink Portland, a public involvement initiative she has launched to propose reforms to the Portland Police Bureau budget during the fall budget adjustment process that concludes with an Oct. 28 City Council hearing.
Hardesty spoke on the issue the same day Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt announced his office has launched an only "dashboard" of the charges filed against people arrested during the protests. It shows the majority of the charges have been dropped against those arrested.
Hardesty did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.