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Memorial to honor 'Black lives lost' appears in Dallas park

"I'm hopeful and frankly relieved that somebody saw the need to do this," Gary Holland said in reference to the wealthy and predominantly white neighborhood.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas — A memorial to honor Black lives lost to violence appeared Thursday morning on a tennis court fence at the City of University Park's Germany Park. 

The organizers hopes the 24-hour display is a fence that doesn't divide people, but instead starts a conversation about how race relations can improve going forward.

"It's intense. it's really intense," Kersten Rettig said, while standing next to the 185 names, photos and fresh flowers attached along the fence. 

"All these fresh flowers you can kind of smell them as if they're having a funeral all over again," she said. 

"You know this is a shocking message. It's a lot of lives," said Highland Park resident Alicia Rico, who helped organize and install the display.

"I was overwhelmed by the volume," added Emily Clarke, who helped pattern the display after an idea that first appeared in Portland, Oregon. "I was not prepared for just how many faces there would really be."

The women say they wanted their neighborhoods, far removed economically and racially from the Black Lives Matter movement, to be part of the conversation too.

"And just open our hearts and speak equality," Rico said. "And spread that message to all of our neighbors and friends."

"As a mother I would want the reaction to be to say their names, to look in their eyes and for their lives to have mattered," said Clarke.

Credit: WFAA

But it didn't take long for someone to take offense at this fence. A man who chose not to give his name, appeared at the fence in the early afternoon with a yard sign in his hand. It said "Red, White and Blue Lives Matter." He called the fence display "one-sided"  and placed the yard sign in the grass between the fence and Lomo Alto Drive. 

After he drove away, someone removed the sign. He returned with a second one to take its place.

"If you want to take piece by piece by piece," he said looking at the photos attached to the fence, "there are both sides to this story. There's more than one side to this story."

"I don't want to argue in front of a news camera," an emotional Clarke told him. "But I'd love to listen, hear your side, and you can hear mine."

"If you would put up as many whites that were killed by blacks, I would sit down with coffee and talk to you," the man said. 

Credit: WFAA

What they tried to but couldn't get him to understand is that the display is not intended to be anti-police. The memorial does include recent victims like George Floyd and Atatiana Jefferson, the woman killed by a Fort Worth police officer inside her home last October.

The names and faces also include assassination victims Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers and Malcolm X. 

Emmett Till's photo is on the fence too. The 14-year-old was abducted, beaten, then shot and his body dumped in a river in Mississippi in 1955 because he allegedly whistled at a white woman. 

The photos include Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carol McNair and Carole Robertson - the four girls killed when members of the KKK blew up the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama with 15 sticks of dynamite in 1963.

Credit: WFAA

"Lives that didn't get a chance. Lives wasted," said Tujwyanna Holland, who stopped and stared at the display while on a walk through the neighborhood with her husband.

"I'm hopeful and frankly relieved that somebody saw the need to do this," Gary Holland said in reference to the wealthy and predominantly white neighborhood.

Credit: WFAA

When the brief roadside arguments and conversations were over, and when everyone left, two teenage girls walked up and removed the second "Red, White and Blue Lives Matter" sign. 

But the organizers wish they hadn't. They say they don't want the fence to divide people. They want everyone to figure out how to get on the same side.

"They are making a bold statement," Kersten Rettig said. "Saying we know it's happening and it's not OK. And it's on us to make it better."

Rico and Clarke say they were told late Thursday night by a City of University Park Parks and Recreation employee that the memorial display would be taken down sometime that evening. The women admit they installed the memorial without a specific blessing from the city but say they received verbal permission during the day to leave the display up for 24 hours. 

Clarke, while helping attach the photos, names and flowers to the fence early Thursday morning, says a University Park police officer stopped to ask what she was doing. 

"He totally met me with a blessing and encouragement and said y'all be safe, take care, I have no problem with this. So, we kept going," she said. "He said I love that the kids are here. And he choked up telling me I have no problem with this."

Credit: WFAA

As of 10 p.m. Thursday, the memorial was still in place.

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