Lopez respectfully removes Black lives memorial

After two months and withstanding three vandalizations, the signs memorializing Black lives lost on Lopez are gone. In a ceremony of respect, community members gathered to remove the painted signs along the side of Fisherman Bay Road on Sept. 6.

“By putting up the signs along the road on Lopez Island, we are reminding ourselves and others to continue the momentum of this moment, to stand with black and brown folks of all genders demanding change and to continue to educate ourselves on the systemic racism and white supremacy that is at the foundation of our lives in the United States,” protest organizers said when the signs were erected. “The signs are intended to connect us with these real people and experience the emotion of the unnecessary loss of their lives.”

Organizers, who requested their names not be used so that the names of the victims may be recognized instead, were self-described as “ a multi-generational, multi-gendered dynamic group of Lopez residents.”

The removal ceremony included a half-hour of quiet contemplation with the signs which began at 11:30 a.m., a half-hour of speeches and information from organizers and then speaking of the names and respectful removal of the signs unitl 2 p.m.

“At the end of the ceremony, the sings will be transitioned away from their current location,” organizers said in a post on Lopez Rocks prior to the ceremony. “They have been documented through photo and video and there are currently projects being discussed to have these beautiful memorials live on in other forms.”

The display was first vandalized on June 27 when someone removed all the signs and left them laying on the ground. When community members re-erected the signs, the culprits returned with spray paint and vandalized the signs. The next day, several community members gathered to repaint the signs and they were replaced along the road.

On Aug. 13, Lopez Island resident Dwight Lewis, 78, was arrested after vandalizing the signs and threatening people with his tractor. He was charged with two counts of assault in the second degree; two counts of reckless endangerment; one count of malicious mischief in the third degree; and one count of harassment. Then the following night, the signs were mowed down by an unknown culprit which led to the decision to form a group to discuss the ceremonious removal of the signs.

Initially, 28 names are painted on the signs including two local indigenous men. The names included Trayvon Martin; Willie McCoy; Dontre Hamilton; Manuel Ellis; Stonechild Chiefstick; Dominique Rem’mie Fells; Riah Milton; Tony McDade; Rayshard Brooks; George Floyd; Breonna Taylor; Philando Castile; Eric Garner; Michael Brown; Latasha Harlins; John T. Williams; Sandra Bland; Alton Sterling; Aiyana Stanley-Jones; Rekia Boyd; Jonathan Ferrell; Ahmaud Arbery; Eric Logan; Eleanor Bumpurs; Mya Hall; Arthur McDuffie; Kayla Moore; and Michelle Casseaux.

“There are so many more, too many more, that we couldn’t include,” organizers said. “May we remember and honor their names and their lives. May they rest in power.

Organizers created the signs in solidarity with the #SayHerName campaign, which launched in December 2014. The campaign’s goal is to bring awareness to the names and stories of Black women and girls who have been victimized by racist police, the organizers explained. It has since expanded to #SayTheirNames to encompass the names of the hundreds of unarmed Black, Indigenous and People of Color who have died due to police brutality and white supremacy.

Since May 31, islanders on Orcas, Lopez and San Juan have joined with thousands of people in cities across the nation and the world to protest police brutality — specifically against Black people — in the wake of the death of Floyd, who was 46, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25.

Floyd, a Black man, died after three police officers held him down as they arrested him for an alleged forgery, one pressing his knee into Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes. Floyd pleaded that he could not breathe for nearly six of those minutes. One officer held back witnesses who filmed the interaction. Floyd fell into unconsciousness at the scene and was pronounced dead at the hospital, according to Minneapolis police. Four officers were fired and ultimately charged as a direct result of Floyd’s death.