New memorial on Williamsburg waterfront honors Black lives lost to racial injustice

Locals install flowers and 187 portraits of Black people who died at the hands of police or while fighting racial injustices. (Photo by Joyce Kam)

A new memorial at the Williamsburg waterfront pays homage to almost 200 Black people who have been killed by police or have died fighting against racial injustice.

North Brooklynites installed the tribute — titled “Say Their Names” — at the 50 Kent Ave. pop-up park on July 25. The memorial, which features 187 portraits of Black people who have been killed advocating for racial justice or by police violence, aims to honor the victims and raise awareness of how many people have been lost beyond those who have made national headlines, according to the effort’s organizer.

“There’s definitely a handful of names that have gotten national attention, but there are so many more lives that were taken through violence and police brutality, so many lives that went under the radar,” said Joyce Kam. “People are becoming aware that it’s not just George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud [Arbery].”

The commemorative installation features pictures ranging from 1960s civil rights leaders like Malcolm X, all the way to recent high-profile victims of police killings like Taylor and Floyd, whose deaths spawned global protests against police brutality and racism within law enforcement.

The “Say Their Names” Memorial at 50 Kent Ave., which locals installed on July 25. (Photo by Joyce Kam)

The Williamsburg resident and a group of friends hung the photos printed by Californian firm Richard Photo Lab and flowers donated by several Brooklyn and Manhattan florists at the fence of the temporarily-reopened lawn between N. 11th and N. 12th space Saturday morning.

She hopes it will further spur discussions and raise awareness in the neighborhood of injustices against Black people.

“I mainly want to keep the momentum going of people talking about fighting against injustice. I think people are seeing the vast amount of lives being lost and the biggest response I’ve gotten is ‘Wow I don’t know the majority of these names,’” she said. “It’s planting that seed for people to do their own research.”

Kam, a local wedding photographer, was inspired by a similar shrine set up by Joy Proctor — a wedding planner and friend of Kam’s — in Portland, Oregon, and the idea has since spread to places like Santa Barbara, CaliforniaSeattle, Washington, and Dallas, Texas.

The city’s Parks Department has given Kam permission to leave the dedication for a month, she said.

The memorial is intended to show the vast scale of Black people killed by police and racial injustice beyond those who have made headlines like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. (Photo by Joyce Kam)
Brooklyn has been an epicenter of protests in the aftermath of the May 25 killing of Floyd by a former Minneapolis police officer, with marches and rallies taking place in the borough every day for almost two months since.

Kings Countians have paid homage to Floyd numerous times, including with a sprawling mural in Canarsie unveiled on July 13 with Floyd’s brother Terrence.

This story first appeared on brooklynpaper.com.