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Artists maintain neighborhood memorial mourning victims of police violence

Police Violence Memorial
Posted at 2:52 PM, Jan 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-27 14:58:25-05

CHICAGO — An estimated 1,000 people are killed in the U.S. during police arrests each year. Almost a third of them are Black. While there have been efforts across the country to acknowledge those who have died, there is no permanent memorial for them.

For the last six months, artists in one urban neighborhood have established a semi-permanent tribute to the thousands whose lives have been cut short.

It’s under the subway tracks in Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood.

“It is like memorializing a war,” said Matthias Regan, an artist, activist and professor.

Colorful pieces of paper, photos and names are plastered across the crumbling walls of the viaduct.

“We have been posting the names on pieces of paper just sort of declaring that we miss you,” said Sophie Canade, an art therapist with the P.O. Box Collective, one of the groups behind the memorial. “All of these names are Black and brown people who died by police violence.”

Artists from the P.O. Box Collective and Cheap Art for Freedom created the installation last Fourth of July.

Regan has used public databases to compile the names.

“We've been going backwards in time and we are now back to 2014,” said Regan. "So, what you see is six years, seven years of loss.”

Many of the names are familiar -- Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor, Laquan McDonald, Sandra Bland and George Floyd to name a few. Others are not.

“There's probably over 2,000 names here now,” said Regan.

“The more time you spend here and the more names you read, the more that it sinks in,” said Canade.

Each Sunday, activists, volunteers and residents preserve the memorial and altar.

“There's actually a guy that comes when I'm here on Sundays. He drives by and parks and just looks,” said volunteer Mara Lynne. “I went up to him one day and was like you know, ‘would you like a poster?’ Like thinking it was his first time. He said, ‘No honey, I come all the time and I just I just look, and I take a few minutes.’”

She’s talking about Norris Bowers Sr. He stops at the memorial every day to take pause, reflect and pray.

“I pray because there are some hurting people,” he said. “Those people came through some people. Those people were caring for some people, some people were caring for those people. People are hurting because of that.”

From Florida and California, to Oregon and Washington state, there have been temporary memorials paying homage to victims of police violence. But even this installation is restricted by the city from being permanent.

“So, we're using wheat paste,” said Canade. “And so, the elements are breaking it down. We have to come back. We have to come back.”

They say however long it lasts, it will be a testament to the Black lives lost.

“Every day I pass here, this reminds me of something,” said Bowers. “It reminds me that people are important. These people are not dead. They just transition. You cannot kill a human being because we are spirits.”

Spirits, he says, who should never be forgotten.