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Who killed Cock Robin?

Ashland has a new T-shirt on the Railroad Park fence. Down by the tracks, 200 yards of T-shirts and signs memorialize African Americans lost in senseless killings over the years. It is modeled after the Lafayette Square fence in Washington, D.C., where Donald Trump held up a Bible last summer. The park was full of protesters at the time. Some were tear-gassed to clear his way and shortly thereafter photos, slogans and posters of the dead appeared on this now famous Lafayette Square fence.

Not just Black Lives Matter concerns appeared, as is commonly believed. Other things that mattered: LGBTQ, Native American, Women’s, environmental, anti-nuclear issues and more. Unknown marauders tore the effigies and posters down in October but activists installed new ones the very next day.

Unknown assailants tore down Ashland’s fence in August but the T-shirts and tributes also rose up again.

Ashland’s new T-shirt on the fence is Aidan Ellison’s, a 19-year-old Black teenager shot in the chest on Nov. 23 by 47-year-old Robert Keegan, a white man, in the Stratford Inn parking lot. Aidan is Ashland’s first Black homicide victim in a 98% white, gentrified town of 20,000.

It feels deserted here. The tourists aren’t coming because of closed-down Shakespearean plays due to COVID-19. Not a hippie town anymore. Regular people can’t pay the rent unless you know how to go on the cheap.

Ashland’s Railroad Park fence. Along which residents walk their dogs and deposit waste in the handy poo receptacles along the route. They walk by Aidan’s T-shirt. Maybe some don’t even know what the fence represents.

The shooting. What to make of it? Aidan was staying at the inn after losing his Burger King job following the Southern Oregon fires in September. Burger King had burned down. FEMA came to the rescue. Ditto for Robert Keegan from nearby Talent, who lost his house in the fire. He was also lodged in the inn and shot Ellison who, in his car, “was playing his music too loud.” Aidan’s memorial is sad, a few flowers and mementos drifting onto the now empty parking spot’s cold asphalt upon which he died.

What’s going on? Both Keegan and Ellison were homeless. They didn’t know each other. There’s a lot of homeless in Ashland. Some call them “travelers” or “home-free,” a term used by Ashland’s Joe Gibson, who I talked with the other day. He lives on the sidewalks. He moves around a lot. Call him Jack Kerouac riding the rails. Doesn’t even want a home.

Maybe Aidan did. Maybe he didn’t. Aidan’s brother said he stayed with him sometimes. Found out about his brother’s death on social media. The papers describe Aidan as homeless. That feels derogatory and one wonders what homelessness is. Gibson talks about underreported homeless deaths in our county. Hypothermia. Sleeping in the woods. The parks. He fights with the city for the “right to sleep.” Moves his tent around every night from sidewalk to sidewalk. A chase game he plays proficiently. Get one eviction, move on to another sidewalk.

Why did Keegan shoot Ellison? Gibson shepherds a lot of homeless, travelers, folks who are home-free. “But it’s crazy making,” says Gibson, “to be like us in this town.” Stressful, he says, these times. “Maybe that added to Keegan’s rage over some music.” Throw in theories of racism. Throw in that Keegan had bought a gun. Throw in that he shot it off a week later over some argument over a kid’s loud tunes.

On Dec. 7, 22-year-old Teresa Grace Flowers was found dead. Unlike in the parking lot, it must have been quiet out there on Ashland’s Billings Ranch. She’d parked her car, then walked toward a pond where her body was found. “She may have been depressed or confused,” a message on the Jackson County Search and Rescue Unit’s Facebook page stated.

These deaths are disturbing.

How many more are confused right now? COVID-19? Fires? The election? The country dismantling? “Murder Most Foul” sings Bob Dylan, defining our history since the 1960s. Listen to his latest recording.

As the nursery rhyme goes, “Who Killed Cock Robin?” We pass the buck. We stand by and watch. We numbly walk by Joe Gibson. We walk our dogs. We don’t even see Aidan’s T-shirt on the fence.

Susan Lloyd lives in Ashland.

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