The memorial in a Mercer Island park displayed several people’s names — from historical figures to Seattle residents — killed by police. One sign for each person’s name, some with portraits and biographical information, each surrounded by blooming flowers.
Within 36 hours, the memorial was destroyed. Someone, or a group, stomped on some of the signs and stole others. They had even taken out the screws from the main sign and left the fallen boards.
ONE MI, the group that organized the temporary installation at Mercerdale Park, discovered the vandalism Tuesday morning after it spent Sunday putting the memorial up. By Friday, the memorial was back up — and even larger than before.
The memorial, which received a permit from the City of Mercer Island, is part of several events and efforts in the city in response to the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer, and calls for an end to police brutality. More than 1,000 people took part in one demonstration, which was organized by Mercer Island students.
Robin Li, a co-founder of ONE MI, a Mercer Island-based organization that focuses on equity in the city, was one of the coordinators who came up with the memorial as a way for youth who were unable to attend the protests to be involved in another way.
The main sign said “Say Their Names,” followed by signs commemorating victims ranging from Crispus Attucks, who was killed in the 1770 Boston Massacre, to Charleena Lyles, a pregnant woman killed by Seattle police three years ago.
“We were trying to not focus on how these people died, but who they were, and try to restore the humanity and identify for people who had been dehumanized at the end of their life,” Li said.
Li said she wasn’t totally shocked by the vandalism, citing previous events in Mercer Island. A few years ago, someone put up signs that said “It’s okay to be white” near Mercer Island High, and earlier this month some residents were photographed taking down signs made by students with statements such as, “You need to change the system, not just yourself.”
“To see those beautiful portraits taken down, I was angry,” she said. “It’s a very small taste of what it feels like to have someone encroach on your life.”
The organization filed a police report; the Mercer Island Police Department said its officers investigated the incident and forwarded information to its criminal investigation section. Officers will be conducting extra patrols in the area.
Li said she was inspired by the outpouring of residents who asked in the aftermath of the vandalism how they could volunteer to restore the site. The installation has grown, and more boards are up now than if the incident hadn’t occurred.
“No one I have met on Mercer Island wants to live in a community that’s known to be racist, and people are realizing they need to take action,” she said. “They’re starting to realize that they themselves not being racist isn’t going to be enough. And that’s pretty exciting.”