A group of protesters toppled statues of former presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln and shattered the entrance to the Oregon Historical Society in Portland’s South Park Blocks late Sunday before moving into other areas of downtown, smashing storefronts and engaging in other acts of destruction.
Police declared the event a riot and ordered people rampaging through the city’s streets to disperse but did not directly intervene until nearly an hour after the first statue fell. The crowd scattered when police cruisers flooded the area, and officers in tactical gear appeared to make several arrests.
Protest organizers had promoted the event on social media as an “Indigenous Peoples Day of Rage.” Monday is the federally observed holiday of Columbus Day, but many states and cities now recognize the day instead as Indigenous Peoples Day over concerns that Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the Americas helped launch centuries of violence against Indigenous populations.
The organizers had signaled their aggressive stance for the night, calling for “direct action” and demanding that the video livestreamers and photographers who had become staples of such events stay away.
People in the crowd were repeatedly admonished not to film. Passersby who happened upon the group were ordered by demonstrators to stop filming or delete photographs, including an apartment resident who had lasers shined at his eyes and a liquid thrown in his face as he appeared to shoot video of the scene from his terrace.
The group of about 200 marched through downtown Portland, at one point occupying all four lanes of West Burnside Street. Most dressed head to toe in black. Many wore body armor, carried shields or wielded night sticks and other weapons.
As the crowd reached the South Park Blocks, some threw chains on ropes on the Roosevelt statue, a bronze sculpture officially titled “Theodore Roosevelt, Rough Rider,” as others took a blowtorch to its base and splattered it with red paint.
They began to pull until the statue rocked from side to side before falling down at 8:51 p.m. The crowd erupted in cheers as dance music played on a large portable speaker.
Over the course of his life, Roosevelt expressed hostility toward Native Americans, as Indian Country Today wrote in an accounting of his attitudes and policies. He pushed policies that promoted assimilation into white culture including the allotment system, by which Native American land was allotted to those who became U.S. citizens and the remainder was made available to white settlers. The policy also weakened tribal governments, an effect reportedly cheered by Roosevelt.
The group then turned to the nearby Abraham Lincoln statue, pulling it to the ground at 8:59 p.m. Spray-painted on the base of the statue was “Dakota 38,” a reference to 38 Dakota men executed after the Dakota-U.S. War of 1862 in the largest mass execution in a single day in American history. (Lincoln commuted the same sentence, handed down by a military tribunal, for 265 others.)
After toppling the statues, some protesters began smashing windows at the Oregon Historical Society, unfurling a banner that read, “Stop honoring racist colonizer murderers.” A mural on the attached Sovereign Hotel building depicting the Lewis & Clark expedition was splattered with red paint.
Kerry Tymchuk, the historical society’s executive director, told a KOIN News reporter that no exhibits had been damaged.
Members of the crowd then broke windows and destroyed a sign at the Portland State University Campus Public Safety office. Afterward the protesters continued north along Southwest Fifth Avenue, smashing the windows of several storefronts and office towers along a seven-block stretch.
Throughout the racial justice protests that began in the wake of the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, protesters nationwide have targeted statues as symbols of longstanding oppression — most notably the statues of Confederate leaders that still stood across the South. Some were torn down, while others were removed by the leaders of the cities in which they stood.
In Portland, several statues that appeared possible targets were preemptively removed as the protests wore on.
The Roosevelt and Lincoln statues were dedicated in the 1920s as gifts to the city from Dr. Henry Waldo Coe, who operated the Morningside psychiatric hospital in East Portland near what is now Mall 205.
In June, a group of protesters pulled down a statue of Thomas Jefferson statue in front of his namesake Portland high school. The third president of the United States also enslaved more than 600 people during his lifetime. Days later, another group tore down a Northeast Portland statue of George Washington, also an owner of enslaved people.
In recent weeks, police have moved in early on “direct action” protest events to make arrests, including more than 26 arrests made Saturday as police said protesters blocked a street and failed to disperse when ordered.
Earlier Sunday, demonstrators rallied in downtown Portland in show of support for police and President Donald Trump. Some appeared to carry firearms; others carried pepper spray canisters and paintball-style compressed air guns.
Videos from the scene showed violent confrontations with counter-protesters, with objects thrown from both sides and the right-wing demonstrators firing paintballs toward their antagonists.
Police intervened a short while later, blocking people from approaching the departing right-wing group. A police spokesman said no crimes were reported and no arrests were made.