This jour­nal­ist cov­ered the vi­o­lence. Now he can’t stay neu­tral

Progress-In­dex pho­to­jour­nal­ist re­flects on bear­ing wit­ness to the Char­lottesville protests

The Progress-Index Weekend - - LIFE STYLES -

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

SCOTT YATES

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