The other day I posted a bit about the power of Photography as a means to record both the critical and the mundane and the importance of the memories that photos can preserve. Well this week we have a much, much larger example of this.
Over the weekend an unarmed young black man was shot and killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri. The police maintain he attacked the officer, witnesses maintain he had his hands up and wasn’t resisting. Police could release the dash cam video from the cruiser which would answer the question quickly, but refuse to do so. This has led to large scale protests in the area, which has led to police rolling out in riot gear against what has been a largely peaceful crowd.
And yet, here again stories differ. The crowd claims that they’re nonviolent, the police claim they’re responding to an “unpeaceful gathering”. Who do we believe? Luckily, someone has… or many someones have… been taking photos. And videos. Not just the media, mind you, but the people.
they shot tear gas canisters at us. we all ran. I fell and my phone broke. Tweeting from someone else's phone. Jesus Christ.
— Rembert Browne (@rembert) August 14, 2014
Two reporters who were sitting in a McDonalds in the area, peacefully, were assaulted by officers and arrested without charge (later released with no paperwork). But photos and video of the incident have been released to capture it all. The local police have attacked news vans and shut down video crews from news organizations like MSNBC… so MSNBC began airing the live streams and captured video that citizens were taking on the ground. Reporters on the ground, such as Rembert Browne with Grandland (tweet linked above) were able to get live updates out on social media, and photos and videos, with the power of smartphones. Joel D. Anderson of Buzzfeed and Yamiche Alcindor of USA Today, out until late in the evening covering it. Antonio French, an Alderman of the city of St. Louis and founder of a local community education center, was capturing Vine video of events before his arrest (update: he was held overnight and has now been released). Or Wesley Lowery of the Washington Post and Ryan Reilly of the Huffington Post, in spite of their arrests, were able to get photos and video out to tell the tale as quickly and thoroughly as possible.
— Ryan J. Reilly (@ryanjreilly) August 14, 2014
So in a situation where the police are attempting to control the dialogue and call a peaceful crowd “unruly”, a few quick snaps are all it takes to make sure that the reality of the situation goes out to the rest of the world: an overmilitarized force is assaulting civilians in their home town while too much of the rest of the nation watches on. Most, fortunately, watch in horror. State and national leaders seem to watch just in the hopes that today it will go away.
As a final note, although this post is all about the photographic aspects of the situation, I wanted to end with this piece from Deadspin: America Is Not For Black People. This is a very good and important read that talks about the whole situation, but also discusses the systemic racism amongst police departments in particular that leads to this kind of confrontation. And by “confrontation” I mean “outright murder of an innocent man”, which has become a trend.