According to Oliver’s husband, Lowman, who is a member of the Concerned Citizens group, City Manager Norton Bonaparte announced the memorial had been moved at his direction at a Monday commission meeting, saying the rationale was the “protection and preservation” of the small structure. Black leaders are dubious, however, and scheduled a meeting with city officials Tuesday morning to protest the move.
And black leaders point to the commissioner whose district the Retreat townhomes are located in: Patty Mahany, who has already drawn the ire of the black community for her staunch support of recently fired police chief Bill Lee. But Ms. Mahany said the decision on what to do with the memorial rested with the city, not the commission.
Still, Mahany said that over the last several months, she has received more than 100 phonecalls from local homeowners demanding that the memorial be moved. She said some people even threatened to “make it disappear in the middle of the night” if the city did not take action.
“We’ve had complaints about it since it went up,” Mahany told TheGrio. “For a long time we ignored those. I had several people that thought it as a safety hazard. People would come to see it and they would park their cars in the street. It was literally across the street from the school.”
Oliver said her organization had the memorial reviewed by an “engineering team,” who deemed it non-obtrusive to street or pedestrian traffic. But Mahany said that while she had no personal opinion on whether the memorial should stay or go, she did feel that over time, the fading, weather-beaten appearance the memorial turned it into an eyesore.
“The city just had to make a decision,” Mahany said. “It was quite shabby, and I’m not sure if you’re gonna memorialize somebody it should be done in a more formal, nicer fashion, with an appropriate marker or something. This was a bunch of wet stuffed animals, faded flowers, dead flowers, really … it was certainly at this point not attractive at all. How long do you leave something like that out there? I don’t know the answer. Fortunately that’s not a commission policy, it’s a city policy.”
Oliver, for her part, voiced a concern reflecting the continuing divide in Sanford over Martin’s death, and what some in the black community see as the vilification of the dead teen by some white residents.
“Why are they putting [the memorial] in the Sanford Museum?” Oliver said. “Number one, they don’t have any other blacks in the Sanford museum, and we got memorials all over the city of Sanford. Why do they want to move this one?” Oliver stated that some in Sanford have disparaged Martin as a “thug,” adding, “why would you want to put a thug in your museum? It just doesn’t add up. They didn’t leave a cross, they didn’t leave nothing. The main objective was to move it and it’s moved. And the city of Sanford is the one that moved it.”
Bonaparte said of Sanford’s black community leaders that the city’s principle concern was with the Martin family. But following his meeting with some of those community leaders, Bonaparte seemed to leave the final disposition of the memorial up in the air.
“I heard the concerns expressed by the attendees,” Bonaparte said through a spokesman. “At this time there is no final determination of the memorial site items.”
Follow Joy-Ann Reid on Twitter at @thereidreport