Thursday, September 3, 2015

Local activist aims to take down makeshift memorials

Local activist aims to take down makeshift memorials

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A teddy bear memorial for John Bland, 18. Photo by Bob Wiliams for the Inquirer

Throughout the city are countless memorials that commemorate stolen lives.

Moms, siblings and friends wear their grief on airbrushed R.I.P T-shirts, or display it on the back windows of cars, sometimes with angels. On battered street corners, mourners erect shrines of teddy tears, plastic flowers, and candles, with hand-written "We Miss You, We Love You" signs to express their sadness, love and outrage. And sometimes, a close friend will leave a six-pack of beer.

These tributes mark where tragedy struck innocent bystanders, heroes, drug lords, and wayward youth. They offer a show of respect that the victim didn't receive in death.

And community activist Paul "Earthquake" Moore wants to take them all down.

 

"The problem is, it becomes an eyesore for the community," says Moore, a 12th Police District representative. "When you’re in the neighborhood, you see them everywhere, and after a while it deteriorates and it makes the community look bad. So what I'm saying is, it’s time to pick them up."

As Inquirer columnist Annette John-Hall reported today, some strongly disagree. Yet Moore remains firm in his mission.

He started yesterday afternoon, filling four bags with dingy teddy bears from 84th and Lindbergh. Five people were killed in a traffic accident there.

He then went down to a well-kept memorial of pictures, teddy bears and candles on the side of an abandoned building at 62nd and Elmwood in Southwest Philly.

Moore said he didn't know anything about the victim.

Eighteen-year-old John Bland died there in March at his own hand, in a game of Russian roulette with friends.

Bland’s mother, Stephanie Terrell, had originally agreed in the dismantling ceremony. But after a crowd stirred,  and a friend of her son’s grew hysterical, the family decided to let the tribute remain.

"It was a big old mess," Edith Dixon, a community organizer in Southwest Philly.

Moore gave Bland's mother a plaque to replace the memorial. She just added the framed tribute to it. 

Undeterred, Moore said he plans to take down one memorial a week. He already has his sights on three in West Philly, and plans to return to 62nd and Elmwood.

"It brings down the community if you keep seeing it there," Moore believes. Taking it down, "erases out of people's minds what happened there."

What Moore doesn’t seem to understand is, some people don't want to forget.

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About this blog

Kia Gregory is a staff writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer. She's a proud native of the city and an alumna of Temple University. Contact Kia by e-mail by clicking here, or by phone at 215-854-2601.


Vernon Clark, a staff writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer, has reported extensively neighborhood issues in North and Northwest Philadelphia. Vernon has also been an editor for the Inquirer and has worked as an editor and writer at the Boston Globe and Akron Beacon Journal. Contact Vernon by e-mail by clicking here, or by phone at 215-854-5717.

Kia Gregory & Vernon Clark
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