Kriston Capps is a staff writer for CityLab covering housing, architecture, and politics. He previously worked as a senior editor for Architect magazine.
Their communities won't forget—and the rest of the country shouldn't, either.
Five months after the February 26, 2012, death of Trayvon Martin, the makeshift memorial that graced the Sanford, Florida, street where he was shot and killed was packed up for storage. The tattered photos, the ratty Teddy bears, the cans of Arizona iced tea and packets of Skittles: Residents had come to consider the Trayvon Martin memorial an eyesore. They wanted it out of their back yard.
Another five months later, in December 2012, the roadside memorial found a new home in a garden near Sanford's Goldsboro Westside Community Historical Museum. Arguably, it had lost its resonance through relocation. A permanent memorial dedicated to Martin in July of last year looks too much like a grave; in fact, the city of Sanford wanted to put it in a cemetery at first. (A guerrilla monument to Martin put up by a Boston artist is better.)
Makeshift memorials erected this month echo the Martin memorial. (The Martin memorial, of course, echoed those who lost their lives before him.) New Yorkers paid tribute to Eric Garner, who was killed by New York Police Department officers in July, with cigarettes, because he often sold them. "I can't breathe," reads one sign: Garner's final words, which were captured on film by a bystander.
Michael Brown's memorial in Ferguson, Missouri, will disappear as well, as time marches on. There is no great way to preserve the roadside memorials that mark these men's deaths, and maybe there is no point to doing so. Their communities won't forget—and the rest of the nation shouldn't, either.
If part of the purpose of a memorial is to prevent history from repeating itself, then the need for a national memorial to the violence subjected upon black men is plain. And if another part of the purpose in building a memorial is to repair a torn community, then there's no better place for that memorial than St. Louis.