Statue provokes social movement, demand for changes in Puyallup

PUYALLUP, Wash. — A small racist statue displayed on the chimney of a home on a busy street near the State Fairgrounds was taken down by the homeowner this week. The homeowner said he removed the statue--a 19th-century depiction of a black person holding a watermelon--at the request of neighbors.

But the statue had already provoked calls and emails to Puyallup’s City Hall, a vigorously renewed movement for racial equity, and demands for the city to form a racial diversity inclusion commission.

Professor Davida Sharpe-Haygood, who teaches at Pierce College said the social media storm triggered by the statue was an alarm clock for many who have joined her Facebook group “Puyallup United Against Fear,” and a social movement pushing the city council for changes.

“That statue was kind of like ‘ok can we talk now?” Sharpe-Haygood said, adding that the statue provoked so much anger, it started a racial equity movement and kicked it into a whole new gear.

“This is the first time that you’ll see where citizens were like ‘no, not in our city.”’

The city of Puyallup sent an email to everyone who complained about the statue, saying it condemned the message, but the statue was protected by the First Amendment.

The City of Puyallup said the city has no legal authority to remove the “racially-motivated figurine” because of the constitutional protection of free speech on private property.

“While we must respect a person’s important constitutional rights, we would hope that any resident who holds racist beliefs or exhibits racist actions will have their hearts and minds changed because this is where true change begins,” the email said.

Sharpe-Haygood points out this part of Pierce County had a long history with extremist hate and even the KKK. Photos from the 1930s show Klansmen in an active organization. But Sharpe-Haygood says now, racism is less obvious.

“Everyone comes off as nice, but there is a lot of microaggression, a lot of passive-aggressive racism where you’re like ‘Did I just feel what I just felt? Did that just happen?’ And it’s not that very blatant in your face.”

So now, Sharpe-Haygood is leading a movement. This weekend, signs will be given out promoting racial equity and diversity and encouraging the city to found a commission to enforce it.

“We actually have roses that were donated by Safeway in downtown Puyallup,” she said. About 720 roses will be given out to people who choose to display the organization’s signs, calling for acceptance, equality, and togetherness.

“(The people displaying signs) are putting their neck out there,” Sharpe-Haygood said. “They’re taking a stance, and so understanding they’re taking a stance we have to show we appreciate them.”