Activists topple statues of Roosevelt and Lincoln amid Columbus Day protests

A toppled Abraham Lincoln statue
A toppled Abraham Lincoln statue - (Copyright AP)
1:33am, Tue 13 Oct 2020
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Protesters in Portland overturned statues of former Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln and vandalised the Oregon Historical Society in a declaration of “rage” toward Columbus Day.

In actions echoed in other US cities and across Latin American, Portland protest organisers dubbed the event “Indigenous Peoples Day of Rage” in response to Monday’s federal holiday named after 15th-century Italian explorer Christopher Columbus – a polarising figure who Native American advocates have said spurred centuries of genocide against indigenous populations.

On Sunday night the group 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 9pm. 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 …”

Bolivia Protest - (Copyright AP)

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 to 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 Monday in a statement.

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 would be assessed for damage, Mr Tymchuk said.

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 in Santa Fe as New Mexico and Arizona marked Indigenous Peoples Day. Protesters used a rope and chain to topple an obelisk dedicated in part to the “heroes” who died in battle with “savage Indians.”

Mexico Columbus Day - (Copyright AP)

Meanwhile, in the Mexican capital Mexico City, officials were being coy about why a Columbus statue was removed from the city’s main boulevard over the weekend before Monday’s observances of Columbus Day, which also brought protests in several other Latin American nations.

Unlike in other cities where monuments to the 15th century explorer have been toppled by protesters, in Mexico City the 19th century bronze statue was gently lifted off its pedestal with a crane and taken away for restoration. Civic leaders then skirted around the question of when, or whether, it would return.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said it was a coincidence the statue was removed just before the anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the Americas.

In past years, leftist and indigenous groups have spray-painted the statue on October 12, as well as during many other protests, and had appeared likely to do so again this year.

“As far as I know, they took the statue down to restore it. And, yes, it did coincide with today’s date, but that should not be misinterpreted.” Mr López Obrador said, while acknowledging “it is a date that is very controversial and lends itself to conflicting ideas and political conflicts”.

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