Facebook – Facebook post prompts West Linn cop to remove black velvet clown painting from his office at high school
A West Linn police officer on Monday took down a velvet painting of a clown from his school resource office window at West Linn High School after a former student condemned it as a racist blackface depiction in a Facebook post that drew hundreds of responses.
Some people reacted by criticizing the concerns about the clown and blasting the woman who posted them for “shaming” the officer.
But others came to the defense of 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 high school student took the photo at the school before the start of the pandemic.
“I don’t see how there could be a harmless excuse for an image with such blatant racism,” Graves wrote 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.
School resource officer Jeff Halverson removed the painting, “as well as all other velvet paintings from his office,” the Police Department wrote in a Facebook post.
PGMGZKRL5AQ”>West Linn Acting Police Chief Peter Mahuna said Halverson had about a dozen black velvet paintings in his high school office.
“He often used them as conversation starters with students or faculty,” Mahuna said.
Once the officer became aware of Graves’ Facebook post, he took down the clown painting right away, and the department issued an apology, Mahuna said.
“The last thing the School Resource Officer wanted is for any student, staff member or member of the public, to not feel welcome and safe in his office. He believed the painting represented a circus clown and nothing more,” West Linn police wrote on Facebook.
“The West Linn Police Department and specifically our School Resource Officer apologize for any negative impacts the paintings may have had on anyone. We remain committed to rebuilding any relationships that may have been negatively affected by the paintings.”
Halverson, who is in his sixth year with the West Linn Police Department, said he collected the black velvet paintings in his late teens from a Washington thrift store, thinking they were funny and weird.
He said he kept them in a box for 20-plus years and took them out to decorate his office at the high school three years ago. Besides the clown, he had paintings of a volcano and a pirate ship, for example, he said.
HDRI6NXL3ZAB3BOJFAQH7HFI2A”>“It was a clown. There was nothing to it,” he said of his intent in hanging the painting that drew the controversy. But once someone expressed concern about it being discriminatory, Halverson said he removed it because he doesn’t want to offend anyone or make anyone feel uncomfortable coming to his office. He ended up removing all the black velvet paintings he had up in his office, he said.
“My office has to be an inclusive, welcoming place,” said Halverson, who is white.
For Graves, the removal of the painting is welcome but she said she wants to hear back from the school’s principal. She also said she didn’t expect the backlash she’s received on social media.
Several people criticized her for posting the photo with the officer’s name visible without bringing the matter to the school district or police first.
3M“>Others defended the black velvet canvas paintings as a style of art popular in the 1960s and provided a link to other clown paintings on black velvet that depicted a number of clown faces painted in white as well, writing that the painting in the high school “is not blackface.”
Some questioned if Graves lives in West Linn.
Graves said she’s lived in West Linn since 2002 and spent two years on campus at Portland State before moving back home this year as she completes credits for a bachelor’s degree in music education.
“I’m not going to apologize because I never EVER SAID (the officer) himself was racist,” Graves wrote back to some of the commenters. “I said this image is and that he, as a public high school police officer, really should think about what kind of mentality that image perpetuates, especially to the incredibly few students of color in this district.”
Graves, who is white, said she hasn’t spoken to West Linn police but is glad that the officer took down the painting from the school office. The officer works out of the school in an effort to build relationships with students, intervene if there’s problems and connect students to appropriate resources.
She said she does think more needs to be done, such as better education in the West Linn schools about Black History Month.
The matter comes in the wake of a $600,000 settlement West Linn paid last year to settle a case brought by Michael Fesser, a Black man from Portland who faced a bogus arrest by West Linn police in 2017 in retaliation for complaints he made about a racially hostile work environment at a Portland towing company. The theft investigation was instigated by former West Linn Chief Terry Timeus as a favor for a friend. The friend was Fesser’s boss Eric Benson, a West Linn resident and owner of A&B Towing Co. in Portland. All theft charges against Fesser were dismissed, and Benson paid Fesser $415,000 to settle a separate civil suit.
VZEMBZA7I”>Criticism has erupted often in the last few years as photographs have surfaced of politicians and celebrities photographed in blackface.
Several recent depictions tied to Oregon schools also have sparked outrage, including a blackface cake decorated in a culinary arts class at Cleveland High School in Southeast Portland in 2019 and later that year a photo with a racist hashtag showing Lebanon High School teens with their faces painted black at a Halloween event.
In 2016, a University of Oregon law professor wore blackface to a Halloween party to portray Dr. Damon Tweedy, a Black psychiatrist who wrote a best-selling memoir about his experiences with racism in medical school and in his profession. A university investigation found the blackface created an atmosphere of tension and hostility at the law school.
Blackface has been used for centuries as a racist device, especially popular in the Civil War era and often employed by white performers in minstrel shows to dehumanize people of African descent. It has been routinely used to rationalize violence against people of color and segregation, historians say.
— Maxine Bernstein
Email at firstname.lastname@example.org; 503-221-8212
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