A memorial that grew from the spot along Canfield Drive in Ferguson, Missouri where Michael Brown Jr. lay bleeding after being shot by a police officer last summer became a symbol of the young man’s life and death, but also the violent end that too many black men in America face.
The memorial cropped up soon after Brown’s killing and grew to include dozens of teddy bears, flower bouquets, balloons, baseball caps and candles. For the better part of a year since Brown’s killing the memorial and another that formed around a telephone pole a few yards away, were ubiquitous reminders of the teen’s death, a ripple of soft sentiment amid the shockwaves of protest and outrage.
At the request of the city of Ferguson, the memorial was removed on Wednesday afternoon as part of a plan to repave that forlorn stretch of Canfield Drive.
“We understand this situation is not easy for all parties involved,” Mayor James Knowles III said in a statement. “This event will forever be a part of Ferguson’s history -- but it is important that the community moves forward.”
Brown’s father, Michael Brown Sr., joined Mayor Knowles at a press conference earlier in the day at the Ferguson Community Center to essentially give his blessings for the removal. City officials hope the removal of the memorial will mark a moment to move forward.
"He would have been nineteen years old," Brown Sr. told reporters during the press conference. "Not a day goes by that I don't think about how I can help other young men to go forward in life."
A more permanent memorial—a metallic dove and plaque— will be placed on the side of the road not far from the site of the old one, paid for by the owners of the Canfield Greet Apartments, according to the city.
Shortly after noon on Wednesday, as a slow rain fell, Brown Sr., the Mayor and other city officials made their way to the site of the memorial. They were joined by members of the National Urban League who agreed to store the remnants of the memorial at a local storage unit. Brown Sr., wearing a hooded sweatshirt with his son’s name emblazoned on the chest and an image of the boy’s face spread across the back, helped load the items into the back of U-Haul.
At one point, Brown Sr. held up a large bronze plaque dedicated to his son.
It read, in part: “I would like the memorial of Michael Brown to be a happy one. He left an afterglow of smiles when life was done.”
“This is permanent for the memory of Mike Brown and what happened to him at Canfield,” Brown Sr. said, staring down at the plaque. “Today is his birthday so it really means a lot.”
From shortly after Brown’s killing, the spot where he lay dead became hallowed ground, with splotches of his blood staining the street. The location became a rallying point, where the raw nerve of the shooting first touched off a pain that quickly spread from the apartment complex to far beyond it. Countless prayer circles have gathered around the spot as well as many moments of silence, virtually all of them 4.5 minutes long to symbolize the 4.5 hours Brown’s body lay dead and bleeding on that very spot.
Marches and rallies, some swelling a thousand or so deep, began or ended along that stretch of Canfield Drive. Images of the street, sans the memorial in the middle of the street and another that clouded around a telephone pole a few yards away, make the place look naked and vulnerable. The cleared street looked far less from the imposing mound of wilted pinks and blues and other hues that unfurled from the memorial and forced drivers to coast past slowly, cautiously.
It hadn’t been without controversy. A month after Brown’s death the memorial around the telephone pole burned to a crisp. Some believe the fire was intentionally set, while others speculated it was a result of lit candles left unchecked. Then last December, after the memorial was driven over and scattered, Ferguson police spokesman Timothy Zoll was suspended after the Washington Post quoted him calling the memorial “a pile of trash.”
"I don't know that a crime has occurred. But a pile of trash in the middle of the street?” Zoll reportedly said.
Just last month a separate memorial to Brown, this one a tree and a dedication marker planted in a nearby park, was damaged. Part of the tree, a sapling, was cut off and the marker was stolen.
Jeff Small, a spokesman for the city of Ferguson, said the removal of the memorial on Canfield Drive was a result of months of planning and discussion between the city, the owners of the apartment complex and Brown’s family.
“This was not the city saying move this stuff,” Small told msnbc. “This was all done after months of ongoing discussion… with all those involved saying this makeshift memorial in the middle of the street was not something that anyone wanted to see for a very long time.”
Small said the removal of the memorial was done with the family’s blessing. The repaving of the street was scheduled to take place on Wednesday afternoon immediately following the removal of the memorial, but was delayed by the rain. The street will be repaved by the end of the week, according to the city.
“It was done in a dignified way so I thought that was respectful,” said Tony Rice, a veteran activist of the Ferguson protests, who watched the memorial be taken down piece by piece. “But I don’t think the plaque is enough. The old memorial symbolized the epicenter of where black lives actually matter. If you ever needed to question how much people care about an 18 year old black man’s life you could point to that memorial.”
Rice said the sheer size of the old memorial offered a symbol that mothers and fathers of young black children could use as a teaching tool.
“When you didn’t see people out there protesting they could say this is what they left behind,” Rice said.