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Video: Protesters tear down Thomas Jefferson statue in Portland, OR

The statue of Thomas Jefferson outside Jefferson High School in North Portland had been graffitied with spray paint identifying the former president as a slave owner. (Jamie Goldberg | The Oregonian/OregonLive/TNS)
June 17, 2020

A statue of Thomas Jefferson at Jefferson High School in Portland, Ore., has been torn down amid continued protests and criticisms of the founding father’s ownership of slaves.

The statue was torn down on Sunday evening after a demonstration organized by Rose City Justice to protest police brutality, Fox News reported.

Video has circulated of demonstrators pulling the statue down with ropes.

A reporter for KPTV News, a Fox News affiliate said the demonstration began at the high school and marched towards a nearby park. Demonstrators and news crews returned to find the statue toppled.

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“Thomas Jefferson statue now toppled over at Jefferson High School. This was the meeting spot for tonight’s march in Portland. Wasn’t like this before we left at 7:15,” reporter Bonnie Silkman tweeted. “A speaker here says, ‘We’re taking the city back, one racist statue at a time.'”

The pediment for the statue was also spray-painted with the words “SLAVE OWNER” and “GEORGE FLOYD 846.”

After the statue fell, demonstrators could be seen hitting the statue with a mallet.

Following Silkman’s return to the high school, the Jefferson statue could be seen on the ground in front of the pedestal.

Later videos showed the statue had been moved down to the bottom of the stairs in front of the school.

Jefferson was the third president of the United States and helped author the Declaration of Independence, marking America’s birth through its split from English rule during the Revolutionary War. However, Jefferson has been criticized for his ownership of slaves. According to Monticello.org, which maintains Jefferson’s historic Monticello residence and documents his history, Jefferson owned 600 slaves.

The organization notes Jefferson’s stance on the institution of slavery was not always clear cut. Though he owned slaves, he also described the institution as a “moral depravity and a “hideous blot.”

Monticello.org notes Jefferson did author abolition legislation, “But Jefferson always maintained that the decision to emancipate slaves would have to be part of a democratic process; abolition would be stymied until slaveowners consented to free their human property together in a large-scale act of emancipation.”

The organization also noted efforts adopted by Jefferson to decrease reliance on slavery and a gradual emancipation by first bettering living conditions for slaves.

“The unintended effect of Jefferson’s plan was that his goal of “improving” slavery as a step towards ending it was used as an argument for its perpetuation,” Monticello.org noted. “Pro-slavery advocates after Jefferson’s death argued that if slavery could be ‘improved,’ abolition was unnecessary.”

The toppling of Jefferson’s statue comes amid nationwide protests. Demonstrations first started over the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in Minneapolis police custody. Demonstrations initially focused on efforts to address reforms in policing, but have grown to cover issues spanning America’s history on racial issues.

There have been calls for removals of statues and symbols of the Confederacy, which seceded from the union and fought to perpetuate slavery during the Civil War. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam recently announced a decision to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, which has stood in Richmond since 1890.

Military commands have also begun enacting bans of the Confederate flag on military installations and calls have come out to rename ten U.S. Army bases named for Confederate leaders.

Statue removals have gone beyond Confederate symbols. A statue of Christopher Columbus at the Minn. state capitol was torn from its pediment last week.

The movement in favor of removing statues has spread to other U.S. presidents as well.

Fox News reported a petition calling for the removal of the Emancipation Memorial statue in Boston, Mass. has garnered more than 7,800 signatures. The statue depicts President Abraham Lincoln standing over a freed slave.

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany answered questions about President Donald Trump’s stance on statues and memorials to historic figures in comments prior to the Jefferson statue’s toppling.

“Kayleigh McEnany: ‘Are we to remove from history George Washington? Are we to remove Thomas Jefferson? Are we to remove FDR?'” The Hill tweeted with a clip of McEnany’s remarks.

Washington, America’s first president also owned slaves. While slavery had been abolished by the time of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidency, he has also been described as a controversial figure for instituting Japanese Internment during World War II.