Until his death, Lincoln Plair would show up each morning at 8 a.m. at the Elm Playlot in the Iron Triangle to pluck broken glass, syringes and other dangerous debris from the sandbox where local kids play.
Then he’d leave his daily mark: a series of geometric patterns in the sand, “like a little Zen garden,” said Richard Muro, a staff member and muralist with Pogo Park, a nonprofit group dedicated to making Elm Playlot a safe space for children. Muro worked with Plair every morning for months. “You can still actually see some of them,” he said, turning and gesturing toward several dotted circles imprinted in the dust.
“He was very important to us, to this park, and to this community,” Muro said. “It’s a horrible loss.”
Family, friends, Pogo Park staff, Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and other public officials gathered Friday evening at the Elm Playlot to honor Lincoln Plair, who was shot to death in the middle of the afternoon on March 4 while washing a friend’s car near 6th and Pennsylvania Streets. He would have turned 21 in June.
Several mourners said he died a hero, stepping between the spray of bullets and two young children who’d been in the yard that day. Everyone who spoke offered this refrain: Plair was a gentle, giving soul who made it a priority to help others.
He’d volunteered for a year with Pogo Park until he was hired on as a staff member a few months ago. He spent long hours playing with local children and caring for his aging father, who has Alzheimer’s — “He would bathe and shave and care for his father each day,” Muro said. The cash donations that Pogo Park collected Friday as well as from a car wash on Saturday will go to funeral costs and to Plair’s family, especially his father, Muro said. Anyone can also donate to the Lincoln Plair Memorial Fund through a link on the Pogo Park Facebook page.
Friday night was chilly; some stood around a bonfire, others around the flickering candles, photographs, notes, flowers, and large painting that made up the memorial along the Elm Playlot fence. Pogo Park staff served Mexican hot chocolate in paper cups as people huddled against the biting wind, and prayed, wept, and praised Plair’s memory.
“He was a very humble, very nice guy; he had a servant’s heart,” said Susie Garcia, a friend of Plair’s. “He was so young and so full of love.”
Plair’s life made his death stunning. “Everyone knows he wasn’t involved in anything,” said Toody Maher, Pogo Park’s founder. “He was a man of peace. A good, peaceful, gentle, incredible spirit.”
Pogo Park staff compiled photos, video, and audio recordings into a tribute to Plair, who, Maher said, would “sometimes ‘get the spirit’ – as everyone who knew him knows – and he would start talking. He had this clarity of vision that was so beautiful.” The video, Maher said, would be “a way to see his soul and what a gentle man he was.”
The video played on Pogo Park’s small stage and the community stood together and heard Plair’s voice. “People are killing people for no reason,” he said. “I want to make you all drop your guns. I want to help the homeless; that’s another thing on my mind. I don’t like seeing people sleeping on the streets.”
When the last image hit the screen – a black and white photograph of Plair’s face, his smile just above the dates of his birth and death – many sobbed loudly; many faces were wet with tears. The crowd begged to watch the video twice more.
“I loved him a lot,” Plair’s sister, Tanisha Evans, said in a quiet voice. “He was a good guy. He loved kids, he loved his family, and he loved to help people. We are really going to miss him.”
Pogo Park staff member Carmen Lee said that a representative from Contra Costa County came to speak about Plair’s death with neighborhood families on Thursday. She’d handed out coloring books to help the children express themselves and told parents that the best way to explain what happened was to say, “sometimes bad things happen to good people.”
“I’ve been crying day and night, night and day, day and night,” Lee said.
She didn’t want to watch the video that Pogo Park staff made, she said, because “I don’t want to cry anymore.”
Additional reporting by Rachel de Leon and Jennifer Baires.