Last Saturday afternoon, I joined protesters marching in the Loop against police brutality and the murder of George Floyd. I had no intention of documenting the day. I’m a photographic artist, not a photojournalist, and even if I was, the story of Black oppression is not mine to tell. While marching and chanting during the early stages of the demonstration, I took pictures of graffiti, debris on the ground, a burnt flag, and tattered posters.
By now, the scene is familiar: Rows of rigid police armed with billy clubs and shields. Crowds of marchers, screaming for acknowledgment, recognition, humanity. I searched for signs of compassion from the officers. What I observed was a unified effort to intimidate. As the day progressed, the police presence evolved from passive to aggressive. By the late afternoon, the cops advanced, pushing and shoving the crowd with shields and batons. If a protestor stood their ground, they were beaten by multiple officers. The Chicago Police and the National Guard isolated demonstrators and shot pepper spray into the crowd. The worst I witnessed from marchers was furious language and the occasional hurled water bottle. Law enforcement started to systematically separate the crowd into smaller groups, making it easier to exercise their pattern of hostility and brutality.
Shortly after 8 PM, without warning, the police started pushing our group back. I took a photo of a National Guard officer shooting pepper spray into the face of a man holding his bicycle. The guard must have seen the flash from my camera because he turned around and sprayed my face too. He was two feet away. I was blinded. My throat and eyes were on fire. There was mayhem all around and someone offered me water. I realized that it was time for this gray-haired lady to go home, but I couldn’t. Public transportation to and from downtown Chicago had been cut off. I walked through the crowds, eventually making my way to the perimeter of the chaos, where I was picked up by my son. As we made our way home, I wondered what would happen to the thousands of marchers trapped in the Loop.
I share this experience as a testimony to the injustice I observed against others, the Black Chicagoans who have no choice but to protest in the streets during a pandemic. By the time I came home to the comforts of my white privileged life, I was undone. I had no idea where to direct my rage. I do not have internalized pain from hundreds of years of oppression, abuse, and institutionalized racism raging inside my soul, yet the intensity of my fury was explosive. Law enforcement had incited violence.
On Wednesday on the north side, thousands of demonstrators gathered in front of the police station at Larrabee and Division. Hundreds of police in riot gear lined up as a show of force; young people were chanting, singing, and holding handmade placards with messages of outrage.
Before the rally ended, one of the organizers took over the megaphone and asked the crowd to honor George Floyd by taking a knee. He then made an appeal to the police. “If you agree that what happened to George Floyd was wrong, raise your hand,” he said. Not a single officer moved. v