Pamplin Media Group – Facebook post prompts removal of blackface clown painting

The West Linn Police Department issued a statement that the painting had been removed; School district says it should never have appeared.

A post on the West Linn Open Forum community’s Facebook group triggered the removal of a velvet painting depicting a black clown from the office wall of a school official at West Linn High School.

Official Jeff Halverson said the painting was used as an icebreaker to make it easier for students to speak to a police officer.

“It’s not something the kids are used to – a painting of a clown on a cop’s wall … The same goes for staff. Like, ‘Why do you have a velvet painting of a clown?’ Why shouldn’t I, you know? ”He said. “It was a good icebreaker to make people more comfortable. They were talking to a police officer; some of them hadn’t done that before.”

Community member Abigail Graves shared two pictures of the clown painting on the Facebook page. She said the photos were originally taken by a student. Graves received screenshots of her sister, a West Linn High School student, that she received from a friend on Instagram a few months ago.

Graves said her sister told her about it in March last year but only found the photos a few days ago.

“When I saw it, I was honestly horrified,” Graves said in an interview with The Tidings.

“I think people need to see this picture and know that the students were upset about it before COVID ever hit. And that I find it very offensive,” she said.

In response to the Post, West Linn Police Department released a statement on Monday February 8 that the painting had been removed and apologized for the negative impact the painting had caused.

“The last thing the School Resource Officer wanted is that a student, staff member or member of the public feel unwelcome and safe in their office,” the statement said. “He believed the painting was a circus clown and nothing more. He removed the painting and all the other velvet paintings from his office.”

Graves said she found the apology unsatisfactory.

“I think the police department, and the school in particular, need to consider why this picture was allowed to be hung in the first place,” said Graves.

Halverson told the news that he believed the painting was just a circus clown.

“The symbolism people say was there – I’m telling you when I bought this and until this post came out, as far as I knew, this was just a painting of a clown,” Halverson said.

William House, of the West Linn Alliance for Inclusive Communities, said the misunderstanding of the history of blackface leads people to mistake these types of racial stereotypes for light humor.

House stated that the origin of blackface dates back to the 1830s when minstrel shows emerged as a popular form of entertainment. He said the shows featured black-faced white actors playing racist stereotypes depicting black people as lazy, cowardly, ignorant people with sloppy morals.

“The proliferation of these shows in popular entertainment played a pre-eminent role in institutionalizing racism within the fabric of our society. Even today, in 2021, we are struggling to untangle this embedded racism in our local communities and in our nation. That Blackface meme is an ugly racist stereotype for those who know its story, hence their outrage, “House said.

Rob Ward, a six-year-old Black West Linn resident and former deputy sheriff’s deputy, said blackface images are a reminder of the systemic racism that lingers.

“It’s very humiliating. It’s a claim of power,” said Ward.

Ward said he was glad Halverson removed the painting.

“It just shows the change (acting) chief (Peter) Mahuna is trying to reconcile with the West Linn Police Department, and I appreciate that,” he said.

Halverson said in the three years the painting was finished, no one who visited his office had anything negative to say about it.

“Not in more than three years. I’ve had everyone from the newest freshman to the school’s superintendent and the advisors and teachers in between,” he said.

Halverson said a complaint was all that was needed for the painting to come down.

“We took the picture off because even if a person says, ‘Hey, you know what, I think that’s offensive,’ we obviously take it seriously, and the last thing I would ever want as a school officer in my office is for anyone Feeling that they weren’t comfortable and that they couldn’t get in, “he said.

Andrew Kilstrom, communications director for West Linn-Wilsonville, said both Halverson and the district apologized for the painting.

“That is obviously inappropriate … sure, it shouldn’t have gotten up,” he said.

In a statement released Tuesday evening, West Linn High School principal Gregory Neuman spoke on the matter.

“I want to acknowledge that this work of art has negatively affected some students and staff,” he said. “We sincerely apologize for this and will work towards reconciliation with those who have been hurt.”

He said the school will continue to educate the community about the effects of black face images.

Graves said the incident showed that racism is alive and well in the community.

“If anything, I think I’ll post the picture and point out what is upsetting people,” she said.

Some members of the Facebook group were offended when they posted the pictures.

“They don’t want to go into the fact that this community has a problem and is very ignorant of how we deal with racial issues,” Graves said.

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