Facebook post prompts West Linn cop to remove black velvet clown painting from his office at high school

A West Linn police officer removed a velvet painting of a clown from his window of the West Linn High School school office Monday after a resident condemned it as a racist “blackface” in a Facebook post that generated hundreds of responses.

Some people responded by criticizing concerns about the clown, beating the woman who posted him for “shaming” the officer, and asking what the fuss was about.

Others, however, defended Abigail Graves, a 23-year-old Portland State University student who graduated from West Linn High in 2015 and whose sister is a junior there. Graves said another student took the photo at the school before the pandemic started.

“I don’t see how there could be a harmless excuse for a picture with such blatant racism,” wrote Graves on Monday on Facebook’s West Linn Open Forum page and posted two photos of the painting. It shows a clown with a black face on black velvet.

West Linn police responded immediately.

Jeff Halverson, the school’s resource officer, removed the painting “and all the other velvet paintings from his office,” police wrote in a Facebook post.

Acting West Linn Police Chief Peter Mahuna said the school’s resource officer had about a dozen black velvet pictures in his school office. He hung them three years ago when he started out as a high school resource officer.

“He often used them as a conversation starter with students or faculty,” Mahuna said.

Upon learning of Graves’ Facebook post, the officer immediately removed the clown painting and the department apologized, Mahuna said.

“The last thing the School Resource Officer wanted is for a student, employee, or member of the public to feel unwelcome and safe in their office. He believed the painting was a circus clown and nothing more, ”West Linn police wrote on Facebook.

“The West Linn Police Department, and especially our School Resource Officer, apologize for the negative impact the pictures had on anyone. We continue to strive to rebuild any relationships that may have been negatively affected by the images. “

A 2015 West Linn High graduate who has a sister who is a junior at the school posted this photo on a West Linn community forum on Facebook, calling it a racist blackface depiction that should be removed.

Halverson, who is in his sixth year with the West Linn Police Department, said he collected the black velvet pictures in his late teens at a Washington thrift store and thought they were funny and weird. He said he kept them in a box for over 20 years and took them out three years ago to decorate his high school office because he thought they would be great conversation starters. In addition to the clown, for example, he has paintings of a volcano and a pirate ship, he said.

“It was a clown. There was nothing to it, ”he said of his intention to hang the painting that sparked the controversy. But when someone expressed concern that it was discriminatory, Halverson said he removed it because he didn’t want to offend anyone or make someone feel like they were walking into his office. In the end, he removed any black velvet paintings he had in his office, he said.

“My office needs to be an inclusive, welcoming place,” he said.

For Graves, removing the painting is welcome, but she said she would like to hear from the headmistress. She also said she didn’t expect the backlash she received on social media.

Several people criticized her for posting the photo with the official’s name visible without first reporting the matter to the school district or the police.

Others defended the black velvet canvases as an art style popular in the 1960s and linked it to other clown paintings on black velvet which depicted a series of clown faces also painted in white and wrote that the painting was high School “is not a black face. “

Some asked if Graves lived in West Linn.

Graves said she has lived in West Linn since 2002 and spent two years on the Portland state campus before returning home this year for a bachelor’s degree in music education.

“I’m not going to apologize because I never said (the officer) himself was racist,” Graves wrote back to some of the commentators. “I said this picture is and that as a public high school police officer, he should really think about what kind of mentality this picture maintains, especially for the incredibly few color students in this district.”

Graves said she did not speak to West Linn police but was glad the officer removed the painting from the school office. The officer works outside of the school to build relationships with students, intervene if problems arise, and connect students to appropriate resources.

She said she thinks more needs to be done, such as better education in West Linn schools through Black History Month.

“I’ve never been in a situation like this,” she said. “I’m not trying to fire this person. It was never a personal vengeance. I probably should have gone to school first, but I wanted my community to know that kids are upset. “

The matter is the result of a $ 600,000 settlement the city paid last year to settle a case of Michael Fesser, a Portland black, who was brought by West Linn police in 2017 in retaliation for complaints Work environment at a towing company in Portland was forged about a racially hostile person. The theft investigation was instigated by former West Linn boss Terry Timeus as a favor for a friend. The friend was Fesser’s boss, Eric Benson, a West Linn resident and owner of the Portland A&B Towing Co. All theft allegations against Fesser were dismissed, and Benson paid Fesser $ 415,000 to settle a separate civil lawsuit.

Criticism has often broken out in recent years when photos of politicians and celebrities who were photographed in black lettering emerged.

Several representations recently linked to schools in Oregon have also sparked outrage, including a blackface cake decorated in a culinary arts class at Cleveland High School in southeast Portland in 2019, and one later that year Photo with a racist hashtag showing young people from Lebanon High School with painted faces black at a Halloween event.

In 2016, a University of Oregon law professor wore a black face to a Halloween party to honor Dr. To portray Damon Tweedy, a black psychiatrist who wrote a bestselling essay about his experiences with racism in medical school and in his profession. A university investigation found that the black face created an atmosphere of tension and hostility in law school.

Blackface has been used as a racist drug for centuries, especially popular during the Civil War era, and widely used by white performers on minstrel shows to dehumanize people of African descent. It was routinely used to streamline violence and segregation, historians say.

– Maxine Bernstein

Email to [email protected]; 503-221-8212

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