OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- A memorial for the victims of the Ghost Ship Fire in Oakland recently disappeared and was replaced by a poem by an anonymous writer on the columns surrounding Lake Merritt. The author preaches love not hate and their words touched a lot of people in the area. But on Wednesday afternoon, a city worker painted over the poem, calling it graffiti.
Watch the video player above for a look at the poem. It's also transcribed in its entirety below:
For months, I have felt uneasy. Each time I approach the pergola, its columns adorned with flowers and pictures, slogans, stories. Each time it looks different. Things left. Things removed. Each time I brace myself for an unpredictable feeling: loss, pain, indifference, delight. And now, at 6:52pm on a Tuesday, the water a deep blue, sunshine, joggers bounding through the lemony light - I round the corner, knowing I will again be tempted to glance at the faces of the fire victims: 36 portraits printed on identical paper squares lying face up on the concrete, between wilting petals and permanently undeliverable letters.
But this time I see hands.
Soft and brown, the hands gathered up the face cards in a single swoop. A woman in a large black backpack clutched them to her chest, piling on fistfuls of bouquets and beads and notes. Balancing all these, she turned towards the lake and threw them in: one. after. another.
I watched her hurling candles, and vases, and picture frames - dumping out flowers, flinging away memory stones, muttering to an audience of none, as joggers jogged by and cyclists sped home. Each one, pulled briefly into her orbit, slowed to see...but no one stopped. No one asked. Perhaps they thought it was just an angry black woman. Someone with a plan they didn't understand. Maybe they would read the explanation in the paper tomorrow.
I wondered what the newspapers would say: Ghost Ship Memorial Sunk? Hate Crime Against Artists? Enraged Activist Divides Creative Community? I wondered if they would ever get it right. "Just" an angry black woman - and what if her anger was just? What if it was rage over the too-many people never memorialized because they were too poor, or too dark, or too far away from home?
I wanted to remind her that the Ghost ship fire victims were black and white and asian. Like Oakland. They were from America, Germany, Korea. I wanted to remind her that their art, and love of art, was a single thread that united them.
I wanted to ask her what she was trying to destroy. How had she been hurt? Who was she trying to hurt? But when I approached, her face was clouded with an undecipherable expression. Her cloudy eyes seemed focused on something I could not see. So I did not speak. I simply watched.
"You can't stop me!" the perpetrator screamed at a skinny white woman with cropped hair and cropped sleeves, who apologized and scurried away. "This is America and there should be no gays!" the angry spat after her. And I wanted to comfort them both, but had no words.
Madmen are like artists. They have their tropes and their variations and the are not always consistent: "All the world are my children," the angry woman cried." "I feel great." "My head hurts." "Bruce Lee is my uncle." "We all make mistakes," she announced, "but we should never do violence to our children and never do violence to our elders." Then she lunged for a garland of tiny paper hearts and crushed them in her fist.
She pulled her hair, and widened her eyes, and flung her head from side to side. She curled her lips, revealing pink gums with no teeth: smooth and even like a baby. She staggered wearily towards the lake, and cast away the paper hearts, and then slide to the ground, pulling a drink from her backpack.
Now, I thought, she is calm. Safe enough that I could ask her to stop. Not to destroy anymore. Not to hurt anyone else.
But, glancing around, I realized there was nothing left but a pinecone, and a heart-shaped pebble, and her. And it was too late, and no words could help -
I had not noticed there was another silent witness until a man emerged. He had been watching from behind this column. And now he wheeled his bike over to stand with me. Looking mournful, he said...something...in Spanish? But for some reason I couldn't understand.
"What?" I peered closely at his square teeth and high cheekbones, focusing on the shape of every syllable.
"She desecrated a sanctuary," he repeated, turning with disgust towards the woman, who squatted in an empty corner, now bereft of its garlands and photo-frames. "Desecrated a sanctuary!" he said ever louder.
The woman looked up to meet his disapproving gaze. "Shut up!" she screamed, with a venom equal to his disapproval. "You're not even an American!"
"It doesn't matter," said the man, but she could not hear him, because he had tucked his head into his jacket, and was tugging his bike away.
I wanted to shout that it didn't matter. That by some moral measure, one silent witness was a more ethical citizen than all those passers by. And that by some other measure, we are all mourners, and all victims, and all neighbors.
But I did not think my words would help. So I did not speak.
And no one wrote anything in the newspaper...
...Later, of course, someone power-washed the last remaining petals from the corners of the pergola...
...and someone else scrawled "F*** the Police" on the walls. Maybe they thought it was the police who did it. Or maybe those were the only words that came to mind. As for me...
I am still anxious each time I turn this corner, because
I am waiting to see the flowers again, and
I don't know if they will ever come back...
...but I have hope.
P.s. This is a story without blame. Like death, like life, like destiny, it is a story without logic. Madness needs no logic. Hatred needs no logic. Art needs no logic. Love needs no logic.
Dear Oakland - choose Love.
Click here for full coverage on the deadly Ghost Ship Fire.