Alchanati Campbell & Associates
"Protesting is a part of your given rights as a United States citizen listed in the Bill of Rights under Amendment #1:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
You should have your cake and eat it too. You should practice what you believe in. You should protest when you feel you need to express something on a grander scale. You should voice your concerns and suggestions. Our system should be flexible and adaptable to the changing eras. But violence and destruction is never the right answer. It's not effective and it will only widen the divide."
- Camden Alchanati
Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in the city and county of Los Angeles shortly before midnight, Saturday, May 30th, and activated the National Guard to assist police after two days of violent demonstrations, sparked by the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who was pinned down by the neck by a white police officer in Minneapolis. Los Angeles had just experienced a level of chaos and unrest not seen since the LA riots of 1992.
How did we get here?
Yesterday, I met with freelance photographer Jackson Deakins to capture the events firsthand as they unfolded and see how peaceful protests turned to violent riots.
I parked several blocks from the protests in a residential area, as I turned the corner towards the Fairfax district evidence of conflict was clear. I was surprised to find that two blocks from the protests, the presence of tear gas in the air was already clear as it had no trouble getting through my N95 mask and causing my throat to burn. Pushing forward, I passed dozens of protesters who had noticeably been there all day, heading home, soaked with milk, and tears still running down their faces.
I walked onto Beverly Blvd; a street best known across the world for its luxurious shopping, but I was met with a scene of absolute chaos. A small group had led a crowd of several hundred protesters right up to the police line and marshaled chants true to the memory of George Floyd. Hundreds could be heard chanting; “Black lives matter”, “I can’t breathe”, “George Floyd”, and when police took aim with their rifles, “Hands up, Don’t shoot”.
Dumbfounded with the situation at hand, I made my way to the front where I could observe the crowd of protestors. Before I could establish my bearings, there were several loud pops from behind me, followed by the sound of rubber bullets flying by, and a sharp pain in my shin. Canisters landed in the crowd and soon the air was thick with gas illuminated by the explosions of flash grenades. My face was stinging, each breath set my throat and lungs on fire, and true to the name my eyes filled with tears. As I ran for cover, I was met with a stranger who offered an eye solution and milk to neutralized the tear gas. This is when I took notice of the true sense of community. Rather than an “every person for themselves” mentality, people rushed to the aid of complete strangers. I noticed that protesters left granola bars and packs of water in various sections of the protests. People helped each other to cover or even stood as shields to block the barrage of rubber bullets and paintballs (used to mark individuals to be arrested later).
As tensions rose some protesters took on self-assigned roles for the benefit of the crowd. People grabbed cones to cover tear gas canisters and pour water on them, others ran around with first aid kits to assist the injured, a group of seasoned protesters tried to stop others from throwing objects and escalating tensions, and on the front line older protesters without eyewear or masks did what they could to keep other protesters and police from clashing. There are very few times that I have ever experienced this large sense of unspoken camaraderie.
Unfortunately, violence was present on both sides of the protests but not to the extent that it is focused on by most news media organizations. In the local and even international news coverage that I have seen the overwhelming focus is on the looting. The area I was in was several blocks from The Grove where there were scores of looters and was a completely separate crowd from the people there to protest. In my area, it was clear that over 90% of the people there were there to protest in a manner that showed their frustration after centuries of inequality but also in a way that did not escalate tensions, but there was no professional news team insight to capture this. In fact, the majority of the officers there also did not want tensions to escalate and I often heard officers yell at others to stop firing and to be careful of the protestors, serval even conducted peaceful conversations with the protestors, but the sad truth for both sides was that it only took a few people to bring both sides clashing together.
One incident, in particular, stood out to me. Four police officers with assault rifles had set up onto a building at the corner of the intersection. One officer would tap another on the shoulder and direct him to fire upon a particular individual who was often throwing something or starting a fire. This routine continued except when a lone African American man in his late thirties stood in the center of the intersection. This man had his hands in the air and clearly had no weapon nor was he antagonizing the police. Prior to this, I had seen this man do anything but peacefully protest. Despite all of this, the officers on the roof open fire on him, sending a barrage of rubber bullets hitting the man multiple times. His only response was a simple shrug to the officers, as to simply say “why?”.
After hours of tic for tat instigations that resembled waves crashing on a beach, tensions reached a boiling point. Heavy reinforcements arrived and there were now over 100 police officers attempting to control a crowd that had grown into the thousands. Squad cars drove through the crowd to break it up and the police made one sweeping push through Beverly Blvd, sending the protesters onto the residential streets with no police presence. At this point officers in full riot gear had taken over and used excessive force to push the crowds far into the residential areas. From the side street, I watched as a police officer took aim at a young woman from 15 feet away who was on her knees holding a sign, and just before I was pushed to the side by a crowd running for cover, I saw the officer open fire.
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