Who killed me?

Camilo Jose Vergara is a photographer and 2002 MacArthur Foundation fellow.

On a billboard in Pico-Union, the smiling face of a young man is pictured next to the question, “Who Murdered Me?” A similar billboard in Oakland asks passersby: “Who Murdered Daniel Knowell III?”

Why were these young, dead black men portrayed asking such disturbing questions? Usually, the dead ask questions only in our dreams. In these cases, though, the dead are homicide victims whose killers have not been found. The signs are there because so few witnesses come forth and police departments hope the offer of a reward will break through “witness reluctance.” A billboard on Florence Avenue in South L.A., for instance, offers $50,000, while in North Philadelphia, information about Lenard B. Palmer’s death will fetch only $1,000.

The signs seem to say: “I am dead, but my smiling face will hover over this ghetto neighborhood until my assassin is placed behind bars.”