Let’s bring back the Sacred Stones

Photos by Jona Valentine

Dear Editor:

The Sacred Stones Memorial, as I refer to it, popped up overnight on the west side of Crescent Lake, where I walk a lot. Hundreds of stones sat at the base of a tree painted with names of people whose lives were taken too soon, too violently, too senselessly. “Take a name,” the stones read, “Learn their story.”

One stone headlined “Black Lives Matter,” said: “Some of us led less than perfect lives, but we were all the beloved family members, friends, and fellow human beings of our communities taken needlessly by the force of police of vigilante violence. Please remember us. Say our names. Learn our stories. Understand what happened to us. Keep our friends and families safe. Our black lives mattered. Black Lives Matter. We Mattered.”

The stones are all similar. The flat side is painted dark blue, the rim white and underside untouched. They are inscribed with names of Black and Brown people from around the country who have been brutally murdered by police. The manner of death is eerie: chokeholds, shot while asleep, shot in the dark, shot in the back, mistaken identity, mental patients held down in their own vomit.

The names, hand-painted in yellow on the stones, look different, denoting several artists. They have thus far retained their anonymity. I wish I knew the artists because I would like to thank them for this touching installation of Sacred Stones, this memorial.

The stones are a roll call to honor. Here are a few:

Miriam Carey: 34 – dental hygienist killed by Secret Service & U.S. Capitol Police after U-turn

Javier Ambler: 40 – shot by Austin, Texas, police after traffic stop

David Joseph: 17 – unarmed shot by Austin, Texas, police within seconds after encountering him

Michael Lee Marshall: 50 – died in Denver jail from injuries received in custody by sheriff’s deputies

John Crawford III: 22 – shot while shopping for a BB gun at a Beavercreek, Ohio, Walmart

Amadou Diallo: 23 – unarmed Guinean immigrant shot by 4 NYPD officers; 19 of 41 shots hit him

Laquan McDonald:17 – shot by Chicago PD for erratic walking

I have stopped several people on the street insisting they wander over to view the memorial. I won’t let them go until they have heard me out.

On another stone are the lyrics from Marvin Gaye’s song What’s Go On:

Mother, mother
There’s too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother
There’s far too many of you dying

Within a couple of weeks, most of the stones disappeared. Where’d they go? Did friends remove them? Family members? Did the artists mean for passers-by to take a stone? Or for the viewer to remember the name on a stone to look up the decedent’s story later?

I don’t know, but their creation memorializes our fellow citizens who needlessly lost their lives in this long saga of American racism.

I saw it with a friend who cries when she thinks of it. I don’t know who else saw it. I hope they were as moved as I was. I am very grateful that I saw it in its fullness at the time it was created. I thought it was a wonderful yet fragile tribute — like life. Black lives are fragile.

I would like to see a permanent memorial to replace this transitory one. I would like the Sacred Stones to be a lasting memorial. Will community leaders find the original artists and create a more permanent memorial to honor those murdered by police?

Have white people studied the books and heard the message amplifying Black and Brown voices? “White Fragility.” “How to be an Antiracist.” “Stamped from the Beginning.” There are scores of them. There are interviews and TED talks and Zoom programs to enlighten all of us white privileged.

The St. Pete artists enlighten us too.

Let’s bring back the Sacred Stones.

Llani O’Connor

Photos by Jona Valentine

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