The Portland City Council issued a collective statement Friday decrying the toppling and maiming of an anonymously installed bust of the Black explorer York atop Mount Tabor.
The statement, organized by Commissioner Carmen Rubio, who oversees parks, and signed by all five commissioners, including Mayor Ted Wheeler, says the July 28 damage to the sculpture is in keeping with white supremacist graffiti scrawled atop a Northeast Portland mural to Black victims of racist violence.
“After repeated racist assaults, it is tragically fitting that this magnificent piece was toppled Wednesday morning just three days after a mural depicting George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery was defaced,” the council wrote. “Some people were scared of what we might see in these pieces, so they tried to take away our ability to see these pieces at all. And they were scared of what we might see in their actions, so they acted when we could not see them.”
The joint statement arrives two days after the York bust was found toppled and partly shattered in Mount Tabor Park. (It’s made of urethane, which is similar to fiberglass and easily damaged.) Since its February installation on a pedestal that once held a statue of Oregonian editor-in-chief Harvey Scott, the art installation has drawn both awed visitors and vandals.
The statement vows to replace the sculpture with a similar piece, but doesn’t provide specific plans. City arts officials have previously pledged a public process to consider a permanent statue atop Mount Tabor. One option is to commission the same artist to sculpt a permanent York bust in bronze.
“This sculpture has forever changed that space atop Mount Tabor into a valuable venue for critically engaging our region’s history,” the statement says. “We are excited for what comes next, in that space and across our city.”
That the council would issue a joint statement is an indication of how politically charged the issue of statuary has become in Oregon. Racial justice protester began toppling statues last summer, including those of three U.S. presidents: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. Last month, local authorities quietly adopted a policy that could ensure the statues stay down.
On Wednesday, hours after the York bust was damaged, Sandy Mayor Stan Pulliam—who is running for the Republican nomination for governor—proposed to repair and install Portland’s three toppled presidential statues in his city at the base of Mount Hood.
“It is unconscionable that these symbols of virtue and American exceptionalism remain spray-painted and locked away because a handful of insurgent mischief makers have hijacked Oregon’s largest city,” Pulliam said at a press conference. “We should celebrate the things that should be celebrated, and learn from the things that shouldn’t. A statue can do both.”
Rubio’s office says Pulliam did not alert Portland officials to his offer before holding his press conference. Such an exchange is unlikely, Rubio’s spokesman says, given that the city has a prescribed public process for deciding the fate of statues.
“We’ve heard nothing from him or his people,” says Will Howell, Rubio’s spokesman.