CLEVELAND — A city councilman fears that violence is glorified by sidewalk memorials to street criminals who are killed.
Councilman Kevin Conwell said street corner shrines, which sometimes include candles, balloons and stuffed animals, often glorify criminals and stigmatize neighborhoods. He plans to introduce legislation in the fall to ban or limit the memorials.
“It’s a nuisance to the community,” he said. “It sends a subliminal message that this area is crime-ridden.”
Two city anti-crime activists, Kevin Bell and Khalid Samad, oppose a ban and said street shrines encourage residents to cooperate with authorities fighting crime.
“It’s not about memorializing gangsters or thugs,” Bell said. “It’s about people being aware this has got to stop.”
Samad said witnesses frequently feel compelled to come forward with information about the crime when they see the community’s concern.
Milwaukee has a policy to remove street-side shrines after 30 days. Boston officials are drafting rules on when and how to remove makeshift memorials, and in Hartford, Conn., police have begun to remove them.
The Ohio Department of Transportation, which maintains state highways, prohibits roadside shrines. But an agency spokeswoman said roadside memorials for accident victims generally are left alone unless they pose a danger to drivers or interfere with construction.
Conwell and Councilman Mike Polensek said the memorials often symbolize more of what is wrong with the city than what is right.
“They become shrines to the gang life, the thug life,” Polensek said. “Is that the message we want to send in this city?”
Conwell said he will consider a time limit when drafting the legislation. One possibility might be to allow memorials to stand until after a victim’s funeral, he said.
Councilman Zack Reed disagreed with Conwell’s suggestion that shrines remind people about crime in their neighborhood.
After a high-profile shooting in April, residents of Reed’s inner-city neighborhood erected a memorial for the 15-year-old youth who was killed while attempting to rob someone. The shooter had a legal permit to carry a gun and police found he acted in self-defense.
“People don’t need a doggone memorial to show there’s crime in the neighborhoods,” Reed said. He said the ban that Conwell proposed was merely symbolic and would not attack the real problem.