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Gone, but not forgotten

on March 25, 2010

Different hands authored the markings that hang on this concrete wall.

Sweet curves and hard angles. Soft shades and jarring colors. Letters strung together to spell homespun aliases.

“Dae.” “Bezzy.” “Top-Dogg.” “Wax.”

Not names for birth certificates or grandma’s dining table – street handles. Out of context, they are impenetrable riddles. But to the friend, acquaintance or enemy, they remain subtle symbols layered with meaning.

These names have one other thing in common: the people they represented are dead. Every one of them. Dearly departed. Reduced to the name the streets gave them, before the streets took them.

Joe McCoy, 39, knows the trials and tragedies of North Richmond as well as anyone. A lifelong resident, McCoy now works to reduce violence in his neighborhood with the Office of Neighborhood Safety, a city agency aimed at crime intervention.

McCoy knows the story of the “Death Wall.”

About five years ago, McCoy said, the owner of the small grocery store on Market and Fifth Streets had tired of battling constant graffiti. The man, who had emigrated from Africa, had developed relationships with neighborhood youths and become a respected member of the community, McCoy said.

The man decided to open up the wall of his store as a memorial for the fallen, a constant reminder of the toll that violence has taken on the community.

More than 30 monikers are part of the morbid art. The dead are men and women, boys and girls, cut down by violence in North Richmond from 1989-2005, McCoy said.

Now only memories that grow more faint with each day that passes.

“I’m of two minds on this,” McCoy said. “On the one hand, it reminds all the kids who are straddling the fence in North Richmond today, this can happen to them, that they could lose their lives just as easy.”

McCoy pauses. He considers the other possibility.

“Or, it can be something that reminds people of lost loved ones and brings up old memories, gets people angry and looking to go get some revenge.”


  1. jt on March 25, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    Good job. Now that is reporting, not fluff.

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