I was out walking my big, fluffy dog. We often turn in and check out Letterly Green, a little “park” within view of Kensington High School. As we approached the park, I could see something in the far northwest corner that wasn’t there when we wheeled by two days ago. Once the dog settled to sniffing the grass, I let her go and walked over to get a closer look. At the apex of the sidewalk, where the semi-circle concrete squares off and comes to a point, there was a shrine. I could see a cross on the right corner of the press-board box, so given the time of year my first thought was that someone had put up a Nativity Scene. But as I got closer I could see and smell the burning prayer candles. Their flames were still going. They appeared to have been very recently lit. On one side, at the foot of the picket fence behind the house that borders the park on the Northwest side, was a pile of prayer candles whose wicks had been spent, all lined up like rows of soldiers.
The structure of the shrine is constructed of four pieces of pressboard. The top is covered by an artfully painted tarp to protect it from the elements. The words, written in green letters outlined in black, read: “Rest in Peace CHINO.” The words “Rest in Peace,” centered at top and slightly smaller than the name, are flanked by blue clouds. Under the “R” are the dates, 1-06-01 and 10-03-20. The “I” in CHINO is dotted with a 3-point crown. The name is flanked on the left by a cross, and on the right by the words “Turn Your SAVAGE up.” A white rosary is draped across the top so that a bronze-colored cross hangs down in the front of the opening
The inside of the shrine is padded and lined with a green sheet held in place with bright green tacks. It contains what appears to be a prayer card with a photograph of Chino. In it, he is dressed in matching dark button-down shirt and pants. The white collar of his crew neck t-shirt made me think he was wearing a priest’s collar before I got close enough to see it clearly. He is posed standing with his left hand in his pocket. He appears in the prayer card to be in the clouds, with angel’s wings added behind him. A number of prayer candles are arranged inside, along with plaques, a calavera, a ceramic bride-and-groom skeleton, a purple ski mask, some drying flowers, and a couple of empty bottles. A Yankees cap, a few plaques, and a cross tacked to the upper-righthand corner include messages like “Long Live Chino” and “Turn your savage up.”
In a photograph posted on the CBS 3 website, the police have blocked off the 2000-block of East Letterly St. A video on the site shows police raking the street back and forth with flashlights, looking under cars for evidence. A closeup shot shows a chalk circle drawn around a spent shell casing. The Philly Metro reports–incorrectly–that he was 18 years old and shot 8 times. A story on 6abc reports he was shot 6 times.
The Inquirer reported that this was just one of 12 shootings that occurred over this particular weekend, and according to the Philadelphia Obituary Project, a site that seeks to bring attention to violence in the city, “Kenny” Keng Dang-Le was the sixth of 66 victims of homicide in Philadelphia in the month of October (2020). A neighbor I spoke with who lives nearby told me she heard multiple shots, which drew her attention outside. She said she saw a car speed away up Letterly St. in the direction of Temple University’s Episcopal Hospital, where he was reportedly taken. Despite the buzz of interest at the shooting, there does not appear to be a news report of his death. But it appears from the text on the shrine to have happened sometime during the day after the shooting, the day that the reports were first published.
It has taken me a while to write about this one. I think in part it is because I have been hoping to hear the story of the memorial from someone connected with it. Obviously, the pandemic and my institution’s IRB directives against interacting with people has made that unlikely for now. But I think another reason I have been reluctant is the tragic nature of his death. He was only 19 years old. He was gunned down in the street on the same evening that I was walking nearby with my daughter after celebrating her birthday. She is not much older than he was. He would have just turned 20 a few weeks ago. That makes me feel both sad and vulnerable. Perhaps instead of one of 12 people shot over the weekend, or one of 66 shot in the month of October, or one of 499 homicide victims for the year 2020 in Philadelphia documenting and writing about this memorial can humanize Kenny/”Chino,” as well as those who care about him and the broader community where so many of these deaths occur.