To Profile a Protest
Photojournalists have immortalized Charlotte and Baton Rouge.
On September 20, a black father named Keith Lamont Scott was fatally shot by an officer of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. It is not clear if he was armed. Witnesses are adamant that he was not. The police won’t let us see for ourselves.
What we have seen are the protest photographs that dominate timelines and define this moment, though the names and voices of those that capture images seldom accompany them. Freelance photographers Antonyo Evans and Patrick Melon gave me their photos and told me their stories.
But first, a quick history lesson
There are Americans whose current political ideologies revolve around a patriotic longing for the “great” America of times past. They want the America depicted by wholesome mid-20th century sitcoms like Leave it to Beaver — and that camp may have gotten as lucky as the astronaut in I Dream of Jeanie.
It appears as though their wishes have been granted.
Over the past three nights, state-of-emergency-inducing protests against yet another extra-judicial police killing of a black man has made Charlotte, North Carolina look like Baton Rouge did this past July. When thirty-seven year old black man Alton Sterling was shot and killed at point blank range by BRPD, huge, turbulent demonstrations — and the murder of three police officers— followed. The fallen officers were not directly involved in Sterling’s death.
This week, Charlotte’s uprising looked like Baton Rouge’s.
You see where I’m going with this?
And how do we know what those protests looked like? Certainly not because of the idyllic entertainment relics produced between the 1950s and early 1970s, but instead, because of the iconic images that make it out of the chaos happening off-screen — and tell us who we really are as a nation.
Take this historic picture. In the midst of the protests sparked by 1976 Boston school desegregation through busing, Boston Herald American photographer Stanley Forman captured Joseph Rakes, a white student, lunging an American flag into the face of Ted Landsmark. He was a 29 year old black Yale-educated lawyer. With a broken nose.
Landsmark is now 70. He has lived to see the see racial tension that has erupted in a city just one and a half hours from the university I attend — ironically, a city that once boasted what is arguably the country’s most successful school integration project. And painfully, in a city people I love call home —
— Charlotte. As told by Antonyo Evans.
Photographer Antonyo “Tony” Evans is an eighteen-year-old from Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He is a student at Catawba College and a self-proclaimed freelance newbie — but he managed to have his images of the Charlotte protests picked up by CNN.
“Well, it was Tuesday night, and I just [received images of the protests] on Snapchat. I have a couple of friends that go to [the University of North Carolina-Charlotte] and I saw that they were some of the first people at the protest. I decided to call my friend and have her send me her location in Charlotte. I left campus about 11:00 [pm] and got there close to 12:00 [am]. When I had got there, people were going away from the area because they had tear gas and stuff.
“This [above] was actually the first picture I took. It took a long walk to meet the officers. When we got there, they were already backing up in formation, like something was going to happen…so I decided to take [this photo]. You can’t really see it but, yeah, they were getting ready to throw tear gas. I wouldn’t say that something prompted them to throw tear gas. But I guess they were kinda feeling like it was their only option. Apparently they had been pushed all the way down there — that’s not where they originally were when the protest started, [but] in my opinion it was still peaceful.”
“There was a man with a t-shirt wrapped around his face because he said he got tear gassed.. He was kinda on the violent side and pretty much she was agreeing with him, and then everyone focused in on [those] two. They were arguing, but it was kinda like a respectful kind of argument and they both listened to each other.
“He was basically saying we should stop with all the peaceful protesting; that it was time to actually use violence. She was explaining to him that that wasn’t the way, that it wouldn’t solve anything. He responded by talking about Malcolm X, and how he made him think differently. It pretty much all ended when she said that very difference is why they were there that day — that [violence and hate] had brought them there. They helped each other out and yeah they ended up being on the same side towards the end. That’s why I really like [this] picture.”
“Here, [this man] was pretty much giving a speech about how what we were doing, wasn’t affecting [the police officers in front of him] at all. ‘Cause they were just there to do their jobs and they didn’t really care what was going on. They were just there. He pointed out how none of the officers were actually looking at us. It was like they didn’t even notice we were there so what’s the point? What were our goals? They could care less. They were just there to do their jobs.”
“Okay, this picture….I wish I could have gotten a better picture to be honest because this was the most powerful moment for me. She came up in her uniform — and you know how I [said before that] none of the officers cared, they just were standing their ground, in formation, but when she walked up and started talking to them, that’s when they started to make eye contact. It actually felt like they were listening to her.
“She was saying that she’s in the army and stuff like accidentally killing somebody doesn’t cut it there; that she could have easily got suspended or lost her job for something like that. She ended on like a question that I will probably never forget. At the end of her speech, she was like, is my pleasure your pain? And when she said that some of the officers were just — you could tell it kind of hit them.”
Baton Rouge. As told by Patrick Melon.
Patrick Melon lives and breathes for his hometown of New Orleans, LA, and in return, the city helps him make a living. The twenty-six year old freelance photographer is one of the most sought after in Louisiana for his prolific photos of New Orleans, but he followed his gut to Baton Rouge. His protest pictures were picked up by CNN, Salon, and Fusion.
“[This moment] was so scary for me, personally, and I’m sure it had to be even more scary for the guy in the picture. The police had came in an armored truck, and it was playing, like, this really loud siren noise. I feel like it was probably something designed to, like, mess up your hearing. Then [the police] pushed through the crowd. It got to the point where they were on one side of the street, and the civilian population was kind of in the median, just a few feet away from the police. And, you know, people were chanting and saying, you know, things like, ‘Black Lives Matter, no racist police.’ There was one that I feel like must have really ticked the police off. They were saying, ‘How do you spell racist?’ And the response to that prompt was ‘BRPD.’ And I think that that really, really fucking made them kind of on edge. All hell broke loose.
“All of a sudden the police broke their ranks and just started lunging at people. Grabbing random folk from that area. Putting them on their backs, arresting people. They grabbed one protester [pictured], and I caught an image of multiple police officers actually detaining him. One officer had his knee on the guy’s neck. And he was at the same time, slamming the guy’s head into the pavement. There’s an eerie calm in the officer’s face. Like, he was just — I don’t know. I — I — I imagine that the face that this officer’s making as he was arresting the guy was probably similar to the same face the officer that shot Alton Sterling was making when he pulled that trigger.”
“The Triple S Food Mart, where Alton Sterling was killed, is in a community in Baton Rouge that had a very real neighborhood feeling to it. I went and started talking to people. You could just feel all of the anguish and emotion right there in that one little area.
“[There were] a lot of women there, being very vocal. There were a lot of mother-type figures. And you could — you could feel it, like, in their voices, first off, them saying, “This could have been my son.” Like, I felt that from every single one of the women that spoke. And they were talking about how Alton Sterling was someone that was just known in that community. He was the guy that sold CDs. I mean, you know, he did his little hustle thing, or whatever — but I don’t think selling bootleg CDs should be punishable by death. He was killed at the place where he tried to make money to take care of his kids. And that was — that was what was expressed by everyone. People were saying how nice of a person he was, how genuine he was, and how — how much he cared about his children.”
“It felt like the one on the right was staring at me like, dead in my eyes, like, through my camera lens. This was before they broke ranks. But — you know, just in hindsight when I was looking at that image, I was like, ‘Well, shit. Was he looking at me, like, thinking, ‘Oh, I’m gonna target this one. I’m gonna try and grab his ass up?’’ Like, that’s what I thought about, when I noticed how he was staring at me through the camera lens.”
“At the protest on the Capitol, the police were suited up in military riot gear and automatic rifles in their hands. It was like they were equipped for war. The strangest thing about this initial gathering at the gathering at the Food Mart, versus the march on the capitol, though? There were no police. At least no uniformed police. I thought that it was eerie, because traditionally what police do, and what they’ve shown us this past Sunday at the rally that I attended, was that they try to contain voices of dissent. The police force is isn’t just a force for peace, and upholding the law. It’s also a force of containment.
“At first, there were 30 to 50 people gathered at the Triple S Mart. As the day progressed, more and more people ended up showing. And eventually, it was literally hundreds of black and white and brown people, just kind of mixed in that area. I will say that it was kind of beautiful, to see so many people unified there, in the Black Lives Matter movement. I don’t feel like white people legitimize the cause, but at the same time, it was a good feeling, to see how many white people were there on behalf of all the black people who are being murdered.”