Love, Healing, Memory: Photographs of DC’s Street Shrines

2012 marked the ninth full year I have been documenting the building of street memorials for victims of violence in the DC area. It was a year of sadness, and some hope.

As of this writing, an additional eighty citizens of our community lost their lives due to murder this year. This number is not just a dry statistic for the families of the slain. It is a very personal rending of the fabric of trust and connection. Each violent death sends out waves of terrible, soul-wrenching grief that forever alters the lives of those in the victim’s circle- mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, grandparents, friends, loved ones, neighbors. And the families of the murderers are also often shattered by the violence – wracked with their own losses of trust, love, and understanding, of shame, denial, and conflicted experiences. I believe that violence just begets violence. Our community as a whole has suffered so many deaths over the years that there is a form of collective post-traumatic stress syndrome operating in many homes and hearts.

The good news is that I have not had to document so many sad memorial sites. The level of violence has significantly eased up overall. Why this has occurred is debatable; attributable to many factors such as gentrification, improved police work, a somewhat aging population, the “Obama factor,” good work by our many city and non-profit agencies, just plain luck… perhaps all these and other unknown factors are at work. I do know, however, that fewer murders create greater possibilities for the slow steady forces of healing to work their positive changes in individual lives and group awareness. Hope…

I recall four memorials in particular this year that continue to resonate in my heart and head, shrines created in memory of Keyontae Osbia Moore, Gregory Troxler, JaParker Jones, and Hae Soon Lim.

Keyontae Moore was killed on March 5th, 2012. She was just 20 months old, a complete innocent, hardly more than a baby. The broken doll splayed across the ground and other children’s toys placed at her memorial were achingly poignant. A life, broken. This one made no sense. This one made me cry…

The memorial built for Gregory Troxler by his friends and family was very original in my view, with a mixture of strikingly clear folk-sculpture and writing, built at the site of his demise. I was struck by the care that went into it, which starkly and effectively reflected the grieving process of his circle of loved ones. Mr. Troxler was killed on October 10, 2012, in an alley near Gallaudet University, just steps from his home.

Japarker “Deoni” Jones was one of a number of transgender women who have been targeted for harassment and death in northeast DC in the past couple of years. All murder is horrific, but targeting someone sheerly for their sexuality, in a naked hate crime, is, to me, excruciatingly venal. Jones’ shrine, erected by a bus stop on busy East Capitol Street after her slaying in February 2012, was quite visible to the public. I recall learning many of the details of the tragedy from an understandably frightened transgender person who was waiting at the very same stop. I have thought often of what it must be like to live under that threat.

There was a very large storefront memorial erected by a large community to the memory of Hae Soon “June” Kim, a beloved shopkeeper on H Street NE, who was killed by a robber on June 14, 2012. The scale of the shrine, and the multi-cultural offerings left, spoke to the depth of the loss felt by many at the slaying of this hardworking mother and neighborhood business owner. I recall my own grandfather, Henry Intrator, who was an immigrant shopkeeper in New York City in the 1920’s through 40’s, speaking to me about the dangers a small business owner faces. It helped me empathize with how deeply the loss of this decent woman cuts into the heart of her family, and how her tragic demise will echo throughout generations. May her memory be for a blessing.

All the shrines have meaning, and I respect all of those who erect them as acts of love, healing, and memory.

Lloyd Wolf is a DC-area photographer. More about him and his work can be found here.

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