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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily represent the position of ZU Media or APU.

Is creating and naming jewelry after the victims of police brutality the right way to honor their lives?

Picture this: you’re a mother or a father of a young teenager who has just become the latest victim in police brutality. The incident cost your child their life and now, you have to adjust to living without them. You are comforted by the overwhelming support you are receiving from people in your community and worldwide. However, one fateful morning, you discover that a company has decided the best way to honor your child is to create and sell jewelry in their name. Your child’s life has been compared to a necklace or a bracelet. 

This scenario has become a reality for the parents of Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice, Elijah McClain and other victims of police brutality.  

I was scrolling through Instagram one morning and came across a post by @embracingblackculture, where I learned that Paul Chelmis and Jing Wen, founders of Shan Shui (handmade jewelry nonprofit located in Charleston), were creating pieces and selling them in honor of the victims of police brutality. 

This bothered me for more than a couple of reasons. 

 

These people’s lives were worth more than an accessory

All over our country, individuals have been creating art, donating to the families of the victims, spreading awareness and holding peaceful protests in honor of these individuals. For the most part, these have been positive and effective ways to honor the lives of our fallen brothers and sisters. Then, you have this jewelry establishment creating jewelry and selling it. The way I see it, making this jewelry and then putting a price tag on it seems horrible. No $300 purchase is going to justify the lost lives of Tamir or Breonna. 

Raven Gutierrez, a senior studying English, stated, “They need justice. They don’t need to be displayed on overpriced jewelry. These stories are only a few of the many, unfortunately. It is wrong, it’s almost as if these deaths are glorified.” 

 

It seems that Shan Shui is benefiting from the deaths of these people

Twitter user @mikagadsden tweeted out, “This is disgusting. SHAME on Shanshui for exploiting Black death for commercial gain. No matter how much they donate, they stand to benefit financially and in other ways. This is reprehensible and offensive. This line needs to be pulled ASAP!!!” 

The line did eventually get pulled but this user made a great point. Shan Shui announces they were donating the profits of these sales to Black Lives Matter organizations, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t gain anything. It’s hard to believe that a company donates 100% of anything to anywhere — people need to get paid for the work they did. You can’t expect people to update websites, create products, ship out items and other things for free, it’s just not realistic.  

Another Twitter user, @kriskaylin, expresses that “BLACK DEATH ISN’T PROFITABLE. BLACK DEATH ISN’T CONTENT. BLACK DEATH ISN’T FOR SALE. This is beyond disgusting.” 

 

All of these items are priced differently

Taking the BLM aspect out of it, it makes perfect sense that some jewelry items are more expensive than others. You wouldn’t expect to pay the price of a necklace when buying some earrings because necklaces tend to be the more expensive accessory. 

However, having different prices associated with different victims/items conveys the message that some lives meant more than others and Shan Shui could have easily predicted that. For example, The Elijah is priced at $480 while The Breonna is priced at $240. Does this mean Elijah’s life was worth more than Breonna’s? It’s an unfair comparison. You can’t put a price tag on life — the gift of life is priceless.

 

Taking a break from the criticism…

It’s easy to see that the company had good intentions in mind. 

According to an article published by theGrio, “Chen (co-owner of Shan Shui), who is Chinese and has a permanent residency in the United States, had the idea to gather the shattered glass from the scene (protests in Charleston, S.C.) and turn it into a manner in which they could give back. Others were helping to clean up the damaged properties but they believed their approach could lead to a more lasting impact.” 

Taking the shattered glass from riots and turning into something that could be beautiful is a great idea, but the execution was horrible. 

Gutierrez also mentioned that “this company could have made jewelry in commemoration of the Black Lives Matter movement itself.”

Another Azusa Pacific University student, who prefers to be unnamed, added onto Gutierrez’s thought and said, “I believe that the ‘Wear Their Names’ line was a well-intentioned initiative to advocate for the victims of police brutality, but the intention ends where execution begins. By placing a value on each piece of jewelry, you are communicating the worth of that individual’s life. The varying price range between victims also presents problematic issues where some lives are [more] ‘worthless’ than others. Overall, this was not an appropriate way to pay tribute to the many lives that were taken.” 

It’s easy to see that some mistakes were made and the debate about the intentions of this jewelry line continues. However, what’s done is done. We can’t go back in time and change the actions of these two individuals, so instead of holding onto these mistakes, let others grow and learn from it. That goes for Paul Chelmis and Jing Wen.