Arts & Entertainment

‘Neighborhood Memorial for Victims of Police Violence’ Continues to Grow More Than a Month After its Creation

In 2018, 66-year-old Deborah Danner, a mentally ill woman, was shot and killed by a New York City police sergeant after he interrupted talks between Danner and medical professionals — who had just convinced her to drop the knife she was armed with. Two years after the incident occurred, the city settled with her family for $2 million

Danner is just one of hundreds of individuals memorialized on a Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) viaduct wall at North Glenwood and West Farwell avenues in Rogers Park as part of an art memorial created for people of color killed by police officers in the United States.

The memorial consists of vibrant posters reading “we miss you” on the viaduct wall, accompanied by the names of the individuals and their death date. In front of the wall, mementos such as flowers and candles have been left by community members.

Amy Partridge — a Rogers Park resident and member of the P.O. Box Collective (6900 N. Glenwood Ave.), a creative group dedicated to community building through “radical art”— has helped to create the “Neighborhood Memorial for Victims of Police Violence.”

She said the group worked within its ranks as well as with community members to create the initial idea for the memorial and eventually set the piece into motion.

“We all were talking about how we could create a space for being able to come together to grieve and mourn and to create an ongoing project where the community could be involved,” Partridge, 50, said. 

The nation has been swept by one of the largest protest movements in American history after the death of George Floyd — a Black man who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer in an incident caught on video May 25.

The Kaiser Family Foundation found that approximately 10 percent of Americans participated in protests against police brutality between April and June. 

Protests against police brutality and excessive use of force by law enforcement officers — specifically toward Black Americans — have taken place in Rogers Park and throughout Chicago since May 30.

The Rogers Park memorial started on July 4 and has expanded ever since.

According to Partridge, the group returns to the commemoratory art piece every Sunday between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. with supplies to encourage community members to add names of those lost to police violence to the wall.

“It becomes kind of a Sunday prayer to come out and continue the process of writing names and thinking about the enormity of the problem,” Partridge said. 

Matthias Regan — a former member of The Mess Hall, a now-defunct radical art group formerly based in Rogers Park — also worked with the P.O. Box Collective to create the memorial. 

He said he used the Washington Post’s Fatal Force database — which tracks the number of people fatally shot by police — and local news reports to compile names for the memorial. 

Nearly a month after the memorial was created — with weekly updates from members of the collective and residents coming to add the names of those they know that have been killed — the group has covered a large portion of the wall with names from recent years. 

“We are working backwards from the present and if you look at the wall we are only into 2018,” Regan, 50, said. “The idea behind the wall is to recognize that every single day someone is shot or strangled or suffocated. … And every one of the names on here is innocent because not a single one of them lived to go to trial.”

However, not every name Regan finds goes on the wall. The Washington Post database includes individuals such as Caine Van Pelt, a man who robbed a Pilot truck stop at gunpoint, stole a car and proceeded to get into a fatal shootout with police. During the shootout, Van Pelt shot an officer, prompting Regan to leave his name off of the wall.

“I refrained from putting the names of people that killed police officers during the incident,” Regan said. “If someone was shot and they had also shot a police officer in that encounter, I’m not going to say ‘we miss you.’”

Gloria Cinge, a Rogers Park resident and Northwestern law student, was one community member who joined in during the July 26 Sunday addition. While using the list Regan compiled to create more posters for the wall, Cinge said the memorial shocked her due to the number of names she didn’t recognize. 

“It’s really sad and shocking to see how many names that are on here that I’ve never heard of,” Cinge, 26, said. “But it also feels very beautiful to be remembering each of their lives by taking the time to write their names. … Hopefully it will make people think when they look at the wall and remember their legacies.”

The memorial has seen some blockades to its progress, though  — mainly community members calling the police with concerns of vandalism or public nuisance — which is why Alderwoman Maria Hadden of the 49th Ward stepped in.

“The weekend the memorial was put up there were a couple of calls with people concerned that others were damaging the viaduct,” Hadden said. “I talked to the police commander and let her know ‘I think this is fine.’ … I checked in with [the Department of] Streets and Sanitation to let them know it was a community memorial project and to make sure not to throw anything away.”

While the viaduct is under the jurisdiction of the CTA, Hadden said she believed it was most appropriate to reach out to the Department of Streets and Sanitation because of the CTA’s lack of attentiveness toward the viaducts. 

“It’s not uncommon for debris and all kinds of things that happen around CTA viaducts to go uncared for by the CTA, and then Streets and Sanitation picks up the slack,” Hadden said.

The CTA didn’t provide comment on the project or Hadden’s remarks.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has promised police reform, including legislation she’s working on with Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker which would require police officers to be licensed in Illinois.

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