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Library Launches Campaign to Preserve Shrines to Slain Dallas Police Officers

A fundraising effort looks to make remnants of the city’s tragic shootings available for future generations

As much as possible of the ad-hoc memorial that arose outside the headquarters of the Dallas Police after the shootings of five officers this year will be preserved in the city's public library. (Dave Hensley - Flickr/Creative Commons)
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On July 7, five Dallas police officers were killed in an ambush that left a city in mourning. In the wake of the shooting, thousands of Dallas residents poured to the headquarters of the Dallas Police Department, leaving objects and letters in honor of the men who died. Now, writes Azia Branson for the Dallas Star-Telegram, a Dallas library is working to preserve those handmade memorials with a fundraising campaign.

The Dallas Public Library hopes to raise $75,000 to purchase archival materials to properly preserve the homegrown memorials, Branson writes. In response, the Friends of the Dallas Public Library have started a GoFundMe campaign to try and raise the funds to buy acid-free archival boxes that can protect the memorabilia and begin a digitization process. 

The ad-hoc memorial that surrounded a police car and a plaza in front of the Dallas Police Department grew for over a week before it was taken down. As CBS DFW reports, the memorial became a place for people to pray, pay their respects and mourn together as police pieced together the story of why a lone gunman decided to shoot 12 people at the end of a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest against police killings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. At the time, portions of the memorial were taken inside during rain storms, and archivists then removed everything that could be saved.

In a release about the fundraising campaign, Dallas Public Library director Jo Guidice says that the collection will become part of the library’s permanent archival holdings. The library also houses a similar collection from another lone sniper situation: the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963. After Kennedy’s death, mourners filled Dealey Plaza with flags, flowers and makeshift memorials, many of which are still at the library’s history and archives division. 

Similar preservation efforts have taken place after other tragedies. For example, Boston’s mayor ordered objects from the memorial that sprung up after the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, and items from that ad-hoc shrine are now housed in the city’s archives. But some observers note that the knowledge that such memorials might be preserved can change the nature of the memorials themselves: As Ruth Graham writes for The Boston Globe, when mourners of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing realized their memorials would be made permanent, they began to leave laminated photos and contact information on their notes.  

Dallas is still coming to terms with this year’s events—and with the city’s relationship to its police force. But archivists hope that the kindness the city poured out in the wake of the tragedy can be continued in the form of funds that will make the remnants of that loss accessible to generations to come. The fundraising effort is a reminder that people’s responses to tragedy are part of history, too—and that without the right resources, the preservation of them isn't guaranteed.

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