This journalist covered the violence. Now he can’t stay neutral
Progress-Index photojournalist reflects on bearing witness to the Charlottesville protests
On the morning of Sunday, Aug. 13, the day after deadly demonstrations rocked Charlottesville and the nation, I stood in the balcony at First Baptist Church amongst the congregation trying to make sense of what had occurred over the last 24 hours.
I heard First Baptist Church Deacon Don Gathers sum up the chaos: "The devil came down to Charlottesville, and he brought the full fury of hell with him."
As a photojournalist who had been on the front lines of the death and destruction that took place in Charlottesville, I can affirm that Hell paid a visit to Earth on Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017.
In the last two weeks, I’ve relied on Gathers’ words to lift me from a broken and sad state to a position of renewed conviction to speak out and resist hatred in all its forms.
In the course of my journalism career, I have seen the results of terrible fires, accidents and crimes. Usually, I arrive shortly after first responders have had a chance to secure the scene. Most of the time, I’m able to do my job with compassionate professionalism, which is a nice way of saying I can keep myself at a safe emotional distance from the subject at hand in order to objectively report the story.
But on Saturday, I bore witness to the worst that humanity can inflict upon itself as it was happening. By now, we all have seen pictures and videos of the violence, hateful rhetoric and deadly car attack. But no amount of Hollywood action flicks or news accounts of tragedy around the world can prepare a person for seeing the torn flesh and blood with one’s own eyes, for hearing the sound of bullhorns and wooden sticks on bone, for smelling the pepper spray and the fear in the air.
The hard-core activists from the two opposing political and moral systems came to Charlottesville ready to rumble, and they were prepared for the worst. Each side wore body armor, carried weapons and communications systems and fielded its own medical and legal support teams. However, the white nationalists, to a man (and yes, I saw only white men), were more heavily armed and had a militia to protect them. Only a handful of counterprotesters openly carried small handguns or rifles.
At Emancipation Park, the events of Saturday morning began before 9 a.m. with a slow buildup of tension, yelling, hand gesturing and the throwing of bottles, glitter bombs and paint bombs. It just took one person to gesture toward another and accidentally clip them for the crowd to be sent into a punching, shoving and beating frenzy. The main fights broke out shortly before noon.
Other than that, I don't know who started