Yesterday, the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis raised a plaque to the memory of slain teenager Michael Brown. The memorial replaces the temporary shrine, consisting of flowers and stuffed animals, that has been maintained since Brown’s death last August.
An image of the plaque, which is embedded in the sidewalk at the location where Brown died, appears below, courtesy of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
When I first read about the plans for a monument, I wondered what words, if any, would be inscribed on it in tribute. I couldn’t in my wildest imaginings have come up with anything as hollow as the piffle penned by a source who writes in the first person while choosing, cuirously, to remain anonymous. The imagery conjured up — afterglow of smiles and echoes whispering softly — is as incongruous to what is publicly known about the life of Michael Brown as is the likeness of him in a cap and gown.
Shortly before his fatal encounter with Ferguson Police officer Darren Wilson, Brown committed a strong-arm robbery of a convenience store. A video showing someone who looked astonishingly like the teen pummeling and robbing an elderly man surfaced in the weeks following the shooting. Even the New York Times noted in what essentially was a eulogy:
Brown … was no angel, with public records and interviews with friends and family revealing both problems and promise in his young life. Shortly before his encounter with Officer Wilson, the police say he was caught on a security camera stealing a box of cigars, pushing the clerk of a convenience store into a display case. He lived in a community that had rough patches, and he dabbled in drugs and alcohol. He had taken to rapping in recent months, producing lyrics that were by turns contemplative and vulgar. He got into at least one scuffle with a neighbor.
This is in no way to suggest that Brown deserved to die. But a plaque dedicated to his memory? This plaque?
The boy’s father said the makeshift memorial was a safety hazard: Indeed, two weeks after Brown’s death, a wayward candle placed atop the pile of mementos set fire to it. But the act of replacing it with a permanent monument wasn’t guided by pragmatism. It is a means rather to keeping alive the division and victimist resentment that fueled weeks of rioting and protests once the shooting became national headlines. Pilgrims to the plaque will read right past the vapid rhetoric, taking away from it, rather, the bitter reminder that the U.S. is a racist nation, where renegade police are given license to run around gunning down innocent, unarmed black men.
The stuffed toys, meanwhile, have been stored by the Urban League, in preparation maybe for the next victim of police brutality. A video at Post-Dispatch site, reproduced below, shows the toys being stuffed into a plastic garbage bag. Unintended symbolism?
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