South Whidbey vigil invites people to ‘say their names’

On the eve of the Fourth of July this year, Sandra Stipe wanted to do something meaningful.

With the help of her family members, the Greenbank resident organized a candlelight remembrance for some of the most recent victims of police brutality throughout the nation.

Her father built 51 crosses and she painted the names of the victims, encouraging people to say their names.

“My best friend taught me a lot about racism and woke me up to the fact about 25 years ago that things hadn’t gotten better,” Stipe said.

The killing of George Floyd made Stipe realize that she as a white person wasn’t doing enough to be an ally for people of color. She was ashamed she hadn’t done more before.

At first she had questioned whether she needed to protest on Whidbey Island, a place where she hadn’t thought a lot of change could be made. But her son encouraged her to stand up and confront systemic racism locally and wake people up to its existence, even on the island.

“We need to talk to everybody and we can’t let white privilege and white supremacy rule this world,” Stipe said.

Fifty-one crosses were placed on a grassy hillside in Freeland Friday night. Many were representative of recent victims of racial injustice at the hands of police officers or vigilantes, like Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. Others were well-known names from years past, like Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown.

Initially there were 50 crosses but Stipe said she slipped in one more for Aiyana Jones, a 7-year-old killed in 2010 during a police raid.

Stipe led a presentation on each of the victims the night of the vigil, and participants lit candles and placed flowers near the crosses.

The scene drew quite a few onlookers, but people kept a respectful distance and either brought their own masks or accepted one from Stipe.

The crosses were flanked by Black Lives Matter banners on the hillside. Fresh flowers are brought out every few days.

“It was very, very powerful,” Stipe said.

“It was very difficult. It’s still difficult to think about it, but I want people to understand that systemic racism is alive and well.”

The crosses were removed Tuesday.

Stipe said she is planning to move the installation and hold another remembrance that would respect COVID-19 regulations. She chose to limit the Freeland vigil to 50 participants, but others were welcome to watch from afar.

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