Seeing With Brand New Eyes
We all have our own struggles, and a story to tell. We are all one circumstance away from tragedy, and I was right in the middle of my own tragedy with a story to tell when life as I knew it would suddenly change.
As I lay snugged up in an Ultra Light hammock overlooking the lake, sound asleep as if floating on a cloud, I was oblivious to the events happening around me. In the middle of the night I would receive a phone call asking if I was safe. I was informed that there was a man shot by police and the city was on fire. With sleep now disrupted, I needed to know what was happening around me. I watched a video of a black male being shot seven times in the back by a white officer. I knew nothing of what was happening or why. What could I do, I thought to myself. I had my own problems to deal with. I sat up watching live streams of fires being set and sat in disbelief. After an hour or so my eyes got heavy and it was time to settle into my cloud once again. I proceeded to get comfortable and would quickly fall back asleep with not a worry to be had.
The following morning I wanted to see the aftermath of a city that would soon enter absolute Anarchy. As I packed up my gear and headed downtown, I couldn't believe what I was seeing. A peaceful city had been vandalized and set on fire. I stared in disbelief at what I could only imagine was chaos the night before and felt thankful that I was far enough away to have missed the previous nights events. As the day unfolded I began to wonder what would happen to life as I knew it. I was concerned as to how the current events would affect me. Very selfishly, I only thought about myself. Listening to the police scanner the city seemed to be active again. Protestors gathered in the streets. Streets were being blocked off. Tension was filling the air quickly. This sudden rush came over me and I needed to be there. History was about to unfold in front of me. I decided to put my life on hold and headed for the city.
As I got closer to downtown, the journalist in me began to take over and I wanted a closer look. I slowly inched towards the chaos and could smell smoke from fires, a tingling feeling in my throat from tear gas, and the sounds of a city filled with unrest. The sky was glowing red. My heart began pounding out of my chest. Fear filled me from within but yet I still needed to get closer. Sadness filled my heart as I sat and watched family owned businesses engulfed in flames. Lives would be forever lost. But who would do this? Was it protestors or opportunity at its best by those who don't care about voices being heard. As I began filming and feeling braver with each step, I would eventually find myself right in the middle of a city engulfed in flames. No matter how far behind the crowd I tried to stay, I somehow always found myself in the middle of it all. I had never witnessed anything like it. Where most people sat within the safety of their homes, I followed danger as it surrounded me, feeling more and more comfortable in the midst of it all.
I needed to understand why this was happening. I needed to understand why so many voices that weren't being heard could lead to all of this. I needed answers. Only this night would lead to more questions that would require more answers. This night, I would find myself running towards gunshots for the first time and witness death right in front of me. This night, I would feel more tension in the air than I could ever imagine. This night, I would witness anger and hate. This night I would witness chaos, corruption, and a city with blood on its hands.
I can't even begin to describe in words powerful enough to fit the emotion that filled the streets between two sides that represented good versus evil. Or were both sides equally misunderstood. I watched and couldn't help but to recall my favorite movie saga, Star Wars and think, I'm literally watching the Galactic Empire fighting a Rebel Force. But where were the Jedi? The entire situation was so surreal. As law enforcement dispersed the crowd further down the street, just up ahead I could see armed Libertarian civilians and couldn't help but to feel this was a trap. Everything inside of me tensed up. You could see fear in people's eyes that were also filled with such anger, hate, and sadness. I watched Black versus White. I witnessed panic within some individuals and an eerily steadfast calm within others. This night would be far more memorable than any other that I've ever had.
With everything going on over the course of three long nights, I still would not understand what this was about. I continued to film, knowing that there was no way I could walk away from all of this now. Something far greater than myself was unfolding in front of me. An understanding that not only myself needed to feel but the world around me needed to understand as well. Everyday after work I would run downtown and begin filming. More and more people tuned in to watch the events unfold, waiting for the action. Every second I became more and more comfortable. I felt safer in the middle of protests and violence than I did around the very people who are supposed to protect me. Every interaction I filmed between law enforcement and protestor I began to see things with brand new eyes.
With a curfew set in place that fit no legal standing to enforce, I watched black individuals get closed in on by multiple law enforcement agencies. I watched those who were engaged in civil disobedience have their rights violated. I watched people of color get taken to jail for violating a curfew that didn't actually exist, while caucasian people walked passed with no harrassment or arrest. I couldn't believe what I was witnessing. I've always heard the stories of being targeted but had never witnessed it first hand. There was almost this previous disbelief and here it was, right in front of me. In the distance, trucks drove passed flying flags that represented an opposite belief, as if to say you're not welcome, this is our town. I couldn't help but to think I was in a scene from American History X. For the first time, I started to understand what the voices meant. What all the marches across town represent. I now understood what my role was and why it was necessary to be there.
The next four nights I would find myself to be the only live streaming journalist from town filming the events that were happening. I somehow ended up being at the most important places at the most important times, filming the events that my small town was suffering. A town most people had never heard of until now. I gained the trust of protestors which allowed me access and a special pass to film what other journalists were denied. This special pass and trust would also paint a target on my back by the very group of people sworn to protect and serve. These next four nights I would be harassed and stopped multiple times by various agencies of law enforcement. I would very quickly learn the ropes and have my introduction to what it felt like to be followed, violated, watched and even unlawfully arrested myself. I could feel what I can only imagine what people of color have to deal with consistently. It wasn't a good feeling and made me sick to my stomach
While I need to keep an opinion that is not biased to either side, I couldn't help but to gain emotion for those around me. For days I would see the same faces. Be greeted with love and compassion from protestors. I would meet some of the most beautiful people. I felt a sense of belonging. I felt, I am here in this moment because the world needs to see this. My involvement documenting all of this became so much bigger than anything I had originally set out to do.
I witnessed brief moments of both sides coming together and talking to each other in an attempt to make a change universally only to have it tarnished during another encounter. I witnessed moments of love for one another, only to be followed up by hatred. I witnessed misinformation that led to judgement and now guilty by association. Both sides saying the same things but yet no one heard it, because they weren't listening. Law enforcement arresting protestors participating in a constitutional right were being categorized as rioters. Protestors casting judgement on everyone in a uniform, all because of the actions of one individual. Both sides casting the same judgement when they should have been holding hands and standing together to fight for the same thing...Justice. I witnessed a system that I wholeheartedly believe in, abuse their power and violate the very thing they are there to protect...our rights as American Citizens. It makes me question the system I believe in. It makes me question whether we have actual rights or if it's an illusion. Then there is the third group who sits quietly in their homes amongst friends, surrounded by walls that don't speak.
What makes me shake my head while taking midnight strolls along the boardwalk by the waters edge is how residents can come together as one to paint beautiful murals all throughout the city but yet they can't come together as one to make life for each other just as beautiful. Those moments where I've shaken my head as I walked home each night with tears in my eyes, saying Dammit, (you) had your chance, the world stopped to listen and (you) ruined it with violence, and the message got lost on deaf ears.
As a journalist I hold a lot of power and responsibility. I have the power to elevate someone's voice and the responsibility to do so. I have the responsibility of showing the world what is actually happening from a raw and uncut camera eye and the only narrative it fits...is Truth.
There are so many questions that need answers. There are still so many voices that need to be heard. We need to hold ourselves accountable before trying to hold others accountable. We need to listen to each others stories before casting judgement on a person we know nothing about. Will it ever change? Will we one day stand united instead of being divided? What's next? How do we fix the broken?
There's a poem I love, and if we can apply it's meaning as a metaphor to these events, maybe we will start to understand that we will never fly unless we become equal.
"The world of humanity is possessed of two wings. The male and the female. So long as these two wings are not equivalent in strength, the bird will not fly.
Can we all just be good humans?