A statue commemorating York, an enslaved Black member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, was defaced Tuesday atop Mount Tabor in Southeast Portland.
While the bust itself was unmarked, symbols and words, including “love not hate,” were spray-painted in purple lettering onto the gray pedestal underneath. A plaque describing York had also been spray-painted over and then removed, leaving behind a blank square framed in purple.
The bust mysteriously appeared in February on a pedestal where a statue of Harvey Scott, a well-known conservative and longtime editor of The Oregonian who opposed women’s suffrage, stood until it was torn down last fall. It still isn’t clear who created or placed the bust of York.
A passerby reported the vandalism on social media Tuesday morning, posting photos that show a person wearing sunglasses and workout clothes holding a can of spray paint up to the pedestal and carrying what appear to be two or three more cans of spray paint under their left arm.
Kaisa Holt and Denise Dekker, who meet at the statue regularly to go for walks, said they were dismayed about the vandalism.
”It was an important commemoration of the specific times that we need to pay attention to,” said Holt, 38. “There’s still people that don’t understand why this is important and that’s a problem we need to address.”
Dekker, who has lived in the neighborhood for the past 15 years, said she was excited when the bust appeared in February.
“I didn’t understand why we had the other statue up and I always wished we had a statue we could actually be proud of,” Dekker said. “It was such a big relief to have something beautiful and meaningful here.”
Dekker said she wants to see the pedestal cleaned and the plaque of York restored — this time by the city. The plaque had been affixed to a plastic board attached to the pedestal.
”I’m hoping the city steps up to make this permanent and to make a real plaque,” Dekker said. “I would love it to be permanent and official.”
Skye Mitchell, 29, was visiting from Alaska and stopped at the top of Mount Tabor Park to view the statue Tuesday. He said he was confused to see the statue defaced, especially amid widespread calls for racial justice throughout the U.S.
”Certain things like Confederate statues I totally understand. … We shouldn’t be honoring the generals that were trying to keep that,” Mitchell said. “But the people that died who were just trying to be human — why can’t we honor them?”
Portland Parks & Recreation officials said in February they would not remove the bust because the bureau’s policy is to allow tributes in parks to remain as long as they are not a danger to the public.
City Commissioner Carmen Rubio also released a statement after the bust appeared, calling it “a much-needed reminder to city leaders to hasten our work of rooting out white supremacy in our institutions—particularly our city government, where many processes exclude community participation and discourage engagement.”
Dekker said given how polarized people’s opinions are in Portland, she’s not surprised someone tried to deface the new statue.
”We’re the leaders of change,” Dekker said. “And it’s uncomfortable for a lot of people.”
— Catalina Gaitán; @catalinagaitan_
Jayati Ramakrishnan of The Oregonian/OregonLive contributed to this report.
©2021 Advance Local Media LLC. Visit oregonlive.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.