In the drug and gang world of National City, street memorials are not uncommon. For a time, vases of flowers and religious candles will bloom on the street or sidewalk where a killing took place, until the flowers dry and blow away, the debris swept off by the locals. With no names attached, the details of the events briefly covered by media, the whole thing is soon lost to history, the site noted afterwards only by loved ones, or as part of some private family lore.
Some of these memorials are maintained longer term, a few more permanently established in some form or fashion, with a homemade sign, painted or carved, and perhaps some plastic flowers fading over time. One street memorial this writer kept encountering drew attention not only because of its longevity, but because of how it was kept tidy and continually freshened with new flowers over many years.
Driving by the site on the evening of September 19th, 2017, a small group of people were observed standing on the sidewalk around that street memorial, gently illuminated by a number of tall glass religious candles placed around the memorial, a small low square-walled cement box filled with vases of fresh flowers.
Circling around and parking, walking over to the site, there was now a car idling in the street and two uniformed police officers talking to the group, one officer questioning one of the men up close, the other officer chatting with the rest of the folk. The fellow being questioned was pulled to a side for further interrogation in the dark parking lot of the Mexican restaurant near where the memorial is established.
The group of people at the site turned out to be a family, a man who was father to at least one of the three children with him, a young boy who had a pitbull puppy on a leash. While the father talked to the officer, the three children cavorted around. They told the story of the street memorial victim, but each had a different story to tell, and as is the way with children, the older were quick to correct the younger, though in more than the usual authority of superior knowledge, tones shading toward what shouldn't be said or said in the story as told to family and the version told to others.
The boy with the puppy, oldest in the group, told the "others'" version of the story, of a man who just happened to be standing on the street with a baby in his arms when someone came up and stabbed him. When the other children blurted out different details, he was quick to say, "Shut up, don't say that."
Finally, the fellow being questioned was allowed to rejoin the group, and the police officers got in their car and drove off. "They just like harassing people," the fellow said, a tall young man dressed in ordinary clothes with tattoos on his face and neck.
The father of the children gave more details about the memorial. Josue said that the victim, whose name was painted on the side of the box in black letters, was his nephew, and that they lived nearby, which explained why the memorial was kept so fresh and tidy. "Yeah, eight years. We come out every year on the night it happened and do this with the candles and flowers. I raised him since he was a kid."
After a few minutes more, they gathered themselves, said goodbye, and walked away, the candles gently flickering in their wake.