The memorial exhibit at First Baptist Church of Riverhead on Northville Turnpike. Photo: Denise Civiletti

(Updated, Sept. 24) Symbolic headstones have been placed on the front lawn of First Baptist Church of Riverhead, beneath a sign that states simply, “WE SHOULD NOT FORGET.”

The headstones memorialize 10 Black lives lost to police violence, or while in police custody, or as a result of racial profiling.

At sundown, solar-powered lights illuminate the painted headstones, which bear the names and dates of birth and death of each of the victims.

The exhibit is a powerful sight, especially as the light of day fades into dusk and night falls outside the brick church, darkened except for its steeple.

“Like an artist’s painting, it is placed there for the individual to bring an interpretation to their soul,” said Pastor Charles Coverdale, who envisioned the creation of the memorial.

The church has scheduled an outdoor memorial service on Wednesday, Sept. 30, beginning at 7:15 p.m. The service will include community members speaking briefly about their own personal interpretations. All are invited. Social distancing and masks are required. Space is limited and is available on a first come,

The purpose of the memorial service is to reflect upon the lives of the individuals represented on each of the headstones, the church said in a press release.

Photo: Denise Civiletti

The lives (and deaths) memorialized

Ahmaud Arbery, 25, who was pursued by three white men and fatally shot by one of them, while jogging near his home in Glynn County, Georgia on Feb. 23, 2020. One of the men, 64, was a retired law enforcement officer. The shooter was his 34-year-old son. No arrests were made until 74 days later, after a video of the killing went viral.

Sandra Bland, 28, who found dead on July 13, 2015 in a Waller County jail cell in Hempstead, Texas, three days after she had been arrested during a traffic stop. She had moved over after a police vehicle pulled close behind her car, but failed to signal. When she refused to extinguish her cigarette, the officer told her she was under arrest. A physical struggle ensued. Bland was charged with assaulting a public servant. She was remanded to the county jail because she could not post bail. Her death was ruled a suicide by hanging. The county sheriff was found to have violated department policies for screening and monitoring prisoners.

Rayshard Brooks, 27, was shot by a police officer in Atlanta, Georgia on June 12, 2020, after he was found asleep at the wheel of his car in a Wendy’s drive through lane. A breathalyzer test indicated his blood alcohol content exceeded the legal limit. As he was being placed under arrest, he fought with the officers, got hold of one of their tasers and ran. After he turned and fired the taser, one of the officers fired at him, striking him twice from behind.

Michael Brown, 18, was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, on Aug. 9 2014, after an altercation.

George Floyd, 46, died in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota on May 25, 2020, after a store clerk reported he had allegedly attempted to use a counterfeit $20 bill. While Floyd lay prostrate on the pavement, an officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

Eric Garner, 43, died July 17, 2014 after being put in a chokehold by NYC police, who were arresting him for selling loose cigarettes on a Staten Island street. One officer put hi in a chokehold and wrestled him to the ground, where he was pinned down by multiple officers, as he said “I can’t breathe” 11 times while lying face down on the sidewalk.

Freddie Gray, 25, died on April 19, 2015, from injuries sustained to his spinal cord while in police custody in Baltimore, Maryland. He was arrested on April 12, 2015 and subsequently charged with possession of a knife. He was being transported in a police van when the injury occurred.

Trayvon Martin, 17, died Feb. 26, 2012, after being shot by a member of a community watch group in Sanford, Florida. Martin had gone with his father to visit his father’s fiancee and walked to a nearby convenience store. George Zimmerman, a member of the community watch group saw him and reported him to police as a “suspicious” person. Several minutes later, after an altercation, Zimmerman fatally shot Martin in the chest. He claimed he was acting in self-defense and was not charged until after a national outcry. Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder and of manslaughter charges after a jury trial.

Tamir Rice, 12, died Nov. 22, 2014 in Cleveland, Ohio, shot by a police officer responding to a call about a male with a “pistol” in a park. The 26-year-old responding officer shot Rice immediately after arriving at the scene, Rice was carrying a toy gun, an airsoft replica that lacked the orange-tipped barrel to indicate it was a toy.

Breonna Taylor, 26, fatally shot in her apartment in Louisville, Kentucky on March 13, 2020 by police officers executing a no-knock search warrant. An acquaintance of Taylor’s was under investigation for suspected drug trafficking and police wanted to search for drugs or cash. Her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, who was in her apartment, fired a shot at what he said he and Taylor believed were intruders who broke through the door. Police fired over 20 rounds. Taylor was shot six times. No drugs were found in the residence.

Photo: Denise Civiletti

Editor’s note: This article has been amended to reflect a date and time change for the memorial service announced by the church after publication. It has also been amended to correct the target of the investigation that led to the warrant executed at Breonna Taylor’s home.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.