Portland police on Thursday cited a woman for multiple misdemeanor violations after identifying her as the individual who used purple spray paint to deface the base of a Mount Tabor bust depicting York, the only Black member of the Corps of Discovery.
Jeanette Grode, 43, was cited for three misdemeanors: second-degree criminal mischief, unlawful applying of graffiti, and a seldom-enforced statute called “abuse of venerated objects” (that’s the crime of defiling a public monument). Police also cited her for violating city code relating to vandalism of park property. Multiple court records list Grode’s address as being in Southeast Portland.
The citation was issued two days after multiple people reported a woman covering the pedestal of the York bust with purple spray paint on June 8. At least two people filmed her; one posted a video to social media and another gave a video to WW.
The video captures the woman as she spray-paints the structure while giving an irate speech to onlookers, lamenting the fact that the York bust replaced the statue of former Oregonian publisher Harvey Scott, which had been torn down months prior.
“It’s love and unity,” the woman says to spectators, “not to replace a white man with a fucking Black man. That’s not fucking unity.”
City Commissioner Carmen Rubio, who oversees Portland Parks and Recreation, says she was saddened and outraged by what she saw in the video on WW.
“When I watched the video, I was both sad and frustrated,” Rubio said in a statement this evening. “Frankly, it should outrage all of us, especially at a time when Portlanders are actively calling for the dismantling of systemic racism and the presence of racial justice.”
The spray-painting was the second time the York bust has been vandalized in the four months since an anonymous artist installed it on the pedestal that once held the Scott statue.
The police investigation proceeded swiftly. Portland Parks and Recreation officials reported the vandalism to police on June 8, and officers cited Grode today, June 10. But it was also an unusually easy case: Grode repeatedly stated her name to at least two people filming.
Police also cited Grode for breaking city rules against damaging park property. That points to an interesting wrinkle in the case: While the bust belongs to the guerrilla artist who crafted and installed it, the base on which it sits is city property; Grode is accused of vandalizing the base.
The Regional Arts and Culture Council has assumed responsibility for maintaining the bust while it sits in Mount Tabor Park. Jeff Hawthorne, the city arts program manager, says RACC doesn’t plan to add the bust to the city’s collection—it isn’t weatherproof and can’t stay in the park forever.
“Nobody officially ‘owns’ the temporary York installation,” Hawthorne tells WW. “Parks has a policy that allows impromptu tributes and memorials to remain, as long as they are not a danger to the public. The sculpture as constructed by the artist wasn’t intended to be permanent nor built to weather the elements, so it can’t be accessioned into the collection and will have to come down at some point. No decisions have been made as to what will go there permanently, but RACC is in communication with the artist in the meantime.”
(That’s another interesting tidbit: The city knows who the artist is.)
The city had cleaned much of the graffiti from the pedestal by Thursday afternoon. But the educational plaque explaining York’s role as an enslaved member of the Lewis and Clark expedition was heavily damaged by spray paint and had been removed.
In light of the incident, Rubio says Portlanders must continue to “call out and interrupt racist actions.”
“Because not doing so demeans us all, and there are real spiritual costs to our community,” she says. “We have a responsibility to be better than this, and the histories and contribution[s] of our Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, Pacific Islander and people of color deserve and demand to be seen, acknowledged and respected, period.”
Correction: The story initially misspelled the name of the woman cited. WW regrets the error.