Manchester activist Cheryl Mitchell dies, was involved in neighborhood projects after death of Officer Michael Briggs

By MARK HAYWARD
New Hampshire Union Leader
April 17. 2018 6:26AM
Cheryl Mitchell stands by the memorial to Officer Michael Briggs that she set up in 2011 on the fifth anniversary of his shooting. (UNION LEADER FILE)

David Lane/UNION LEADER Cheryl Mitchell gets a hug from Joe Labbe as she holds her grandson Kamrien Johnson and a picture of Manchester slain police officer Michael Briggs at a vigil for Briggs in 2008.

MANCHESTER — Cheryl Mitchell, who become the face of neighborhood activism after Manchester police officer Michael Briggs was gunned down outside her Lincoln Street home in 2006, died this past weekend.

Mitchell, who was 63, died on Saturday morning of ALS, otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, said her husband, John Mitchell.

City officials and her husband clicked off a list of initiatives that Mitchell had a hand in:

• The “magic alley” murals she encouraged teenagers to paint on garage doors as an alternative to graffiti.

• Cleanups and upgrades for the Adam Curtis Skateboard park.

• Neighborhood Christmas parties at which Toys for Tots provided toys and meals for needy families.

• Her front yard shrine to Briggs, which Mitchell put out every Oct. 17 on the anniversary of Briggs’ death.

John Mitchell said the illness, which was diagnosed in September, prevented her from erecting the shrine this past October.

“Every time I saw Cheryl, she had a smile on her face and a big hug for us,” said Manchester police Lt. Brian O’Keefe, the department spokesman who first met Mitchell when he worked in community policing. “She was a stalwart community member, 100 percent behind the police all the time.”

Former gang member Michael Addison received the death penalty for shooting Briggs. Appeals have been denied, but Addison remains on death row as lawyers continue to challenge his conviction.

Encouraged by then-mayor Frank Guinta, neighborhoods across the city launched watch groups in response to Briggs’ death. Mitchell’s neighborhood watch effort — named Eagle Eyes — was one of the earliest and most active.

“She became a community organizer and wouldn’t tolerate the assaults on her neighborhood,” said Anna Thomas, the deputy director of the city Health Department. The Health Department’s Weed and Seed program, which encourages neighborhood revitalization, worked with Mitchell.

“She said, ‘That’s it; I’m not going to let people take over my neighborhood.’ She owned it,” Thomas said.

A review of newspaper archives also finds Mitchell organizing a rally in response to Briggs’ death, notifying the Fire Department about the arson potential of discarded mattresses, and leading a picket outside the Bedford home of the owner of dilapidated city tenements.

The Mitchells lived at the corner of Lake Avenue and Lincoln Street. Cheryl Mitchell grew up about five blocks away from her house, her husband said. She was a third-generation city resident who was the daughter of a mother of Polish heritage and father with French-Canadian roots, he said.

“She loved the neighborhood, she loved being in the city,” John Mitchell said. “She was one of those kind of people happy to be where she was.”

A memorial is planned for Saturday at the Durning, Bykowski & Young Funeral Home, 285 Manchester St., from 2 to 4 p.m.

mhayward@unionleader.com


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