As activists took to the streets to protest the police shooting deaths of Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, and others, two Palm Beach law partners wanted to do more. Malik Leigh and Danielle Watson were frustrated that only these victims' deaths were discussed. Now they're working to convert an abandoned former black hospital into an interactive memorial that properly honors police shooting victims.
"As the next incident occurs (and they occur every couple of days), these men and women are forgotten," Leigh tells New Times. "These people led lives, and the thing that binds them together was that they weren't killed by their actions; they were killed by police."
Watson and Leigh are still fundraising and figuring out how to acquire the abandoned Pine Ridge Hospital on Division Avenue in West Palm Beach. The national memorial would honor each victim with an interactive exhibit that could feature personal belongings, mementos, photos, videos, and letters. It wouldn't be limited to people of color, but it would focus on the alarming rate at which minorities are fatally shot by police. And it would emphasize the measly percentage of officers who ever face charges for using deadly force. Watson and Leigh hope their memorial could be the movement's headquarters.
"State violence against people, especially people of color, shouldn't be forgotten or brushed under the rug," Watson says. "We want this to be a place of historical significance." Watson and Leigh think the old, abandoned Pine Ridge Hospital on Division Avenue in West Palm Beach is the perfect spot for the memorial. Opened in 1916, the pink building was the sole hospital that treated African Americans in a five-county area until the 1950s. In 1956, Pine Ridge patients were transferred to the "Black only" wing at nearby St. Mary's Hospital. In the 1980s, the hospital was temporarily abandoned. It was later converted to a 12-unit apartment complex that was also abandoned.
"We would love to have it in that building," Leigh says. "It's a historical building that we want to restore to its original condition."
Corey Jones' death gave Watson and Leigh the idea of opening up a museum. After Jones was shot to death beside his broken down car by a Palm Beach Gardens officer in October 2015, national media like the New York Times and the Washington Post covered Jones' story. Eventually they moved on. Leigh says that Jones' case was so egregious, but the media lost interest because it wasn't captured on video. Now Watson and Leigh are working to tell as many stories as possible of national police violence victims. Leigh reports that Corey Jones' family is supportive of the memorial.
Watson focuses on personal injury law and civil rights litigation. Leigh focuses on juvenile law and civil rights litigation. Leigh also taught law at Palm Lakes High School. In June 2015, they decided to form a nonprofit to focus on social justice issues, including the underserved minority community in West Palm Beach. They also intend to educate youth who are most likely to come in contact with overly aggressive police officers.
The hardest part of this project is funding. Though the firm has been applying for grants, fundraising hasn't been easy. They are currently accepting donations.
"When the individual protest marches end, and we know they will, the National Memorial for Victims of Police Violence will stand as a permanent physical "Protest" to complacent lawmakers and law enforcement on behalf of families of victims of police and government aggression," their website states.
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