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View Full Version : Elections Absolute must-read: photographer's take on the RNC protests.


Direckshun
09-11-2008, 02:32 PM
I'm going to post the links here, but you're a damned moron if you read this article here and not on the blog itself where the photog's amazing pictures are posted. It's really something.

http://drunkatdnc.blogspot.com/2008/09/personal-account.html

I keep re-living the opposing fight or flight instincts I felt while covering the RNC protests. Lines of dark uniforms and gas masks with furrowed brows, unshakable, and the incessant rhythm of "Who's streets?! Our Streets!" which makes it hard to hear myself think. The stench of pepper spray fills the air, and commands bark down the police ranks. A protester pushes too far and the police line opens up like the jaws of some black beast, spewing white flames and swallowing the man whole. Somehow, even though a part of me begs to run, I keep shooting. It's the other instincts I'm listening to now, the ones I'm training to think clearly and keep me planted to capture the moment.

But I'm relatively new at this. Not completely, but relatively. It's not the first time I've found myself in a potentially dangerous crowd of impassioned people, or face-to-face with impatient cops. There have been plenty of intense newspaper assignments, the University of Florida championship celebrations, the Muslim festival of Ashura in India. They've all programmed me a bit to feel out a mob and know when I should stay or go. But this week there were times when I was scared. The police had pepper sprayed, roughed up and arrested photojournalist friends of mine on Monday. The first photographer I ran into in St. Paul was Phillip Andrews, covered in pepper spray. I was in town shooting (mainly) for my portfolio, not represented by an agency, network or publication. I had no safety net other than being a member of the media. Just my cameras, and couple of random credentials from a Puerto Rican newspaper assignment in town. As far as the constitution is concerned though, that should be enough.

Another opportunity to document the protests came Thursday night- a rally at the capitol building. Several hundred had gathered at a small stage to say "good riddance" to the convention as John McCain was about to take the podium at the Xcel Center down the road. It was the usual disorganized anti-government message that blended resentment for issues across the board - End the War, Free Speech, Free Palestine, Down with the biased Media, etc. After rolling my eyes a few times I went looking for "protest culture" shots. There was a peacenik on stilts, a young punky-looking couple making out in the grass, some colorful mow-hawks, fun stuff. Speeches eventually became chants and the mob decided to march toward Xcel though it had been denied a permit. Endless riot police blocked roads into downtown and the mob pinballed around the plaza searching for a way through, all the time chanting angrily about their right to protest. Tension built on both sides until a violent encounter seemed imminent, but it didn't come. The crowd moved around a few times and the police adapted. I remember at one point earlier in the week a cop in full riot gear told me "We don't want to be on CNN." I assume after the mass arrests and violence on Monday, the first convention day, the chief of police and his political friends wanted to keep the spotlight on the Republicans and not on the relatively small dissent.

This dragged on for a couple hours until people started dispersing, so I figured it was time to call it quits. No more rushes of adrenaline, no more images, no more fear of arrest or attacks. I followed a Gannett shooter down several streets until we found one the cops were allowing access to. I was about two footsteps away from turning the corner when a friend called on the phone. "Umm, they're breaking shit." I'm not in great shape lately but somehow I sprinted about a mile uphill and around the back of the capitol building where I saw smoke and heard loud bangs in the distance. Sprinted some more. As I got closer I recognized it was tear gas and concussion bombs the police were throwing, so naturally I went straight toward the activity to make some photos. That fear crept up again - will they arrest everyone, will I get sprayed or shot with a rubber bullet?

By the time I realized I was at the center of the conflict it was too late. The bombs and tear gas were exploding all around me and cops were screaming at everyone to go south toward the bridge. I yelled to one cop "I'm media! Where do I go?!" but he pointed his rubber bullet gun at me and yelled "Go to the ****ing bridge!" It was utter chaos. The police were throwing gas and bombs in between the bridge and people being told to go to the bridge. Poor aim? Amid the mayhem I managed to click away a few frames, but I couldn't help but notice what was going on. They had surrounded the area and were corralling what seemed like 300 people, including a large number of media and legal observers, onto the bridge for a mass arrest.

The night before after the Rage Against the Machine concert in downtown Minneapolis the police used the same strategy, but I was let out of the corral immediately and with dignity. I felt the police were being reasonable then. They had allowed the Rage fans to march through the streets for a while without doing anything rash. Most went home peacefully after releasing some anarchist energy. But something changed Thursday. Both sides seemed angrier and more willing to resort to violence but my sense is toward the end of the protest people just wanted to leave, which is why they went uphill past the capitol where there were no police barricades. The bad apples that allegedly smashed windows may have ruined it for everyone else. Or maybe the police provoked them. Likely it was a bit of both.

Once on the bridge they got on a megaphone and told us we were all being arrested. I stuck with some network cameramen in hopes they'd recognize me as media, and started making phone calls. Tried to figure out what lawyers Jim Winn and Nathan Webber contacted on Monday when they were nabbed, contact Tim Hussin, and of course my girlfriend. A bunch of the media guys next to me were on their phones presumably calling their bosses, but when I reached for one last phone call a cop pointed at me and started yelling "This one doesn't know how to follow orders!" He rushed me and grabbed the phone out my hand. "I don't know what you could be doing with this!" I would have explained to him that I was calling my girlfriend so she wouldn't freak out when she found out from someone else I'd been falsely arrested, but he didn't seem interested. Instead, he told a group of cops who grabbed my arms and jostled me a little to get me in cuffs. They must have assumed the phone I'd been using for the last ten minutes had transformed into a bomb or sharp weapon. Ironically, they lifted me slowly so as not to break all the camera equipment hanging from my arms. (Little did they know my cameras are much more dangerous than my phone). I was embarrassed and outraged at the whole scenario. Tim wrote me a text message telling me to see it as an adventure and a potential journal entry, and that got me in the right mindset.

From then on I had a smile on my face. Whether I ended up in jail or not, I knew this whole thing was a sick joke. In this country, the law does not hold media accountable for the acts of the people they're reporting on (supposedly). It was completely absurd that I and other reporters, cameramen, photographers had been arrested like common criminals. We had no responsibility or participation in the protesters' cause other than documenting it for the world to see...The cop left in charge of my group of arrestees happened to be, according to him, one of only two democrats on the bridge so we had a little laugh. Mine was a nervous laugh. To my right I saw a parade of media walking free down the bridge and I looked up to my captor with puppy-dog eyes and said "I'd really appreciate your help." He said, "well, you must be media if you've got all those expensive cameras." Within a few minutes I was released and joined the other media to earn our unlawful assembly citations.

Yes, I felt nauseous. Yet I had a certain sense of well-being underneath my worries. One thing I could count on was that, despite all the problems this country has, our constitution is solid. There have been terrible violations, like what happened to AP photographer Bilal Hussein in Iraq. But for the most part its solid. In most other countries (some of which I'm bound to visit in future years) I may have been beaten and locked up with no hope for a fair trial. Here, my worst-case scenario was probably a couple of days in jail and most likely dropped charges after a series of pain-in-the-ass of events. Some of the protesters may face felony charges, but most of the peaceful ones were allowed to walk the streets letting the world know how they feel. For now I've got a citation that I'm hoping will be dropped, or at least that I can AND WILL dispute, and an indelible experience that will serve me in more dire circumstances later on.

I hope you, the viewer, have learned something through our photographs about the nature of our country. Both the good and bad, what we have to be proud of and what we need to keep fighting to improve.

BigCatDaddy
09-11-2008, 02:40 PM
A must read? I want that 5 minutes of my life back.

Programmer
09-11-2008, 02:44 PM
I read this expecting to see a comparison of the RNC and DNC. It was all about the RNC and the protests.

What I see are people that are arguing the same things that are argued here with the exception that they felt strongly enough about their fears and concerns to go protest.

I also noticed that there was pretty much nothing to say about the DNC and no pictures.

The hatred of conservatism, as it is today, is apparent. My question regards where the young people are indoctrinated with this hatred. I suspect most of it is from outside the home.

Direckshun
09-11-2008, 02:48 PM
I read this expecting to see a comparison of the RNC and DNC. It was all about the RNC and the protests.

What I see are people that are arguing the same things that are argued here with the exception that they felt strongly enough about their fears and concerns to go protest.

I also noticed that there was pretty much nothing to say about the DNC and no pictures.

The hatred of conservatism, as it is today, is apparent. My question regards where the young people are indoctrinated with this hatred. I suspect most of it is from outside the home.

The blog does have a host of pictures and comments from the DNC.

What are you angry about again?

Programmer
09-11-2008, 02:54 PM
The blog does have a host of pictures and comments from the DNC.

What are you angry about again?

Who is angry?

Where were the protesters at the DNC?

Bought off?

kcvet
09-11-2008, 07:17 PM
http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_443nRanXdPs/SMWP0y66m5I/AAAAAAAABHE/E4MJrZ5B3wU/s1600/1.jpg

a war protester??? HAHAHAHAHA..................ROFLROFL