Early Sunday morning, vandals defaced a Portland mural depicting the faces of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery along Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. They covered the faces with white paint and then stenciled in black and red the website of a white nationalist group: Patriot Front.
“The damage they did, the size of it, they probably had a team of people,” muralist Christian Grijalva said later that morning, standing beside his wounded work.
Grijalva painted the mural in 2020, shortly after Floyd’s murder, calling it “We Stand With You.” Grijalva said it took him seven days to complete, even with the help of community volunteers. He took no money to paint it.
Similarly, when word went out this morning of the vandalism, over a dozen people showed up to scrub the offending advertisement off the wall.
“Many people came to clean it,” says Union Market owner Yeoun Choi. The mural sits on her business’s outside wall, and her market’s security cameras show the mural was defaced between 3 and 4 am Sunday.
Choi says she’s used to graffiti of “bad words” around her store, but that after Grijalva’s mural went up, taggers at least left that one wall alone. “They worked so hard on it. People should not destroy it.”
Patriot Front is based in Fort Worth, Texas, but holds white nationalist demonstrations on a national level. Stencils of its logo or name have appeared on the York statue in Mt. Tabor Park—accompanying white spray paint on the bust and its plaque—and other works honoring people of color across the country.
The Portland mural depicts Floyd and Taylor—Black people whose killings by police were at the center of 2020 protests—and Arbery, a Black man killed while jogging by three white vigilantes in Georgia.
Tommy Soultanian, who works at a nearby bakery, learned about the mural’s defacement shortly after opening when someone walked up to the bakery’s window in tears.
“A woman, a young out-of-towner, she just walked up crying,” Soultanian says. Soultanian snapped a photo and posted it to Instagram. “Unfortunately, I’ve seen multiple murals of George Floyd defaced,” they said.
The image quickly spread. An hour later, a team stood ready to wipe the wall.
Grijalva also arrived on the scene. People started calling him shortly after 9 am. By 10 am, they’d raised $300 for Grijalva to buy new paint and supplies.
Former mayor and current mayor’s office staffer Sam Adams tweeted about the vandalism shortly after noon. “Awful, horrible, completely wrong,” Adams tells WW. “Hopefully, we can get on that right away by tomorrow.”
By tomorrow, the mural may already be restored.
“Removal is gonna take away from the original color,” Grijalva said, appraising the work that lay ahead. “I can work with this, though. It’s gonna look good, maybe by the end of the evening.”
This isn’t the first time racists have targeted one of Grijalva’s murals. “I painted Frida Kahlo and Yuri Kochiyama at Southeast 67th and Foster,” he says. “They painted their faces white and wrote ‘fuck commies.’”
“I’m an artist,” Grijalva continued. “I’m going to continue to do social justice murals like this, regardless of the hate and ignorance, especially from those who want to come out and do this in the middle of the night. It only makes me want to paint bigger, harder.”