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Sculpture destruction is ‘hate crime’
29 July 2009

BISMARCK (UTN) - Tribes Technical College President David M. Gipp is calling on Bismarck authorities to condemn the destruction of an eagle sculpture that belongs to the city and report it as a hate crime.

      The sculpture “Rising Eagle” was destroyed July 22 or 23 in Pioneer Park along Bismarck’s River Road.

David M. Gipp

      It was not a “random act of vandalism,” wrote Gipp in letters to Bismarck Mayor John Warford and Paul Quist, Chairman of the Bismarck Parks and Recreation District board. “This action targeted Native Americans."

      United Tribes Art-Art Marketing students created the ten-foot tall stylized golden eagle and its circular setting. It was one of five works on the theme of eagles commissioned in 2004 by the parks board for public areas along the Missouri River. The sculptures are public property, owned by the parks and recreation district.

The Rising Eagle sculpture at its dedication in 2007

      This act was intended to “intimidate those who think it is wise public policy for our community to display public art that expresses the cultural diversity that exists within the community,” wrote Gipp.

      Eagle was hit with spray paint graffiti in August 2007, a short time prior to a dedication program that was attended by city and parks officials and the public.

      All of the other sculptures have also been damaged to some degree. The damage to one in particular stood out for its racial tone.

      The spherical work “Reflections,” in Steamboat Park, was defaced in 2006 one day before its planned dedication. Upon the reflecting surface of its six-foot diameter stainless steel gazing ball was written a racial slur followed by an obscenity: “I didn’t get my check this month. How about You? Mother _ _ _ _er!”

Rising Eagle sculpture destroyed

      Because of that comment, clearly directed toward American Indians, Gipp wrote that the series of acts against the eagle sculptures constitutes “hate crime.”

      Gipp provided the definition of a hate crime used by the FBI: “a criminal offense committed against a person or property which is motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender's bias against the victim's race, religion, disability, ethnic origin, national origin, or sexual-orientation.”

      Gipp emphasized that the FBI definition includes crimes against property.

      “This act should be reported by the police as a hate crime,” he wrote. “If city police have not done that already, the city commission should prompt or direct them to do so.”

      “There should be no place in the Bismarck community for such violent acts,” he wrote. “Left unchecked, they could lead to other acts of violence, not only against property but individual citizens.”

      Gipp recommended that action should be taken to protect the remaining eagle sculptures and that a reward be offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those who destroyed “Rising Eagle.”

      “This will underscore Bismarck’s commitment to building a community that respects, values and protects diversity,” he wrote.

      As an attachment to his letters, Gipp provided a copy of the Fargo-Moorhead policy against hate crimes. He urged the adoption of a similar policy, to send a message “that the community as a whole, will not tolerate hate crimes in any manner.”

      Gipp wrote that the community expects its leaders to condemn such acts, press for solutions and work to prevent them from happening in the future.

      “It should not be left only to Native Americans in our community to stand up for what is right. It must be a shared responsibility,” he wrote.

      Otherwise it calls into question the leadership of city officials. “The question is whether Bismarck is a city mature enough to accept the diversity within it,” Gipp wrote.