Photojournalism on the Front Lines | Powerful Photos from Protests Across the U.S.
Protests have erupted in cities across America in response to the death of George Floyd, who died while an arresting Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee to his neck and back. Although a rash of looting and violence threatened to change the narrative of the protests, peaceful protestors have continued to take to the streets to bring awareness to the #BlackLivesMatter movement and demand police reform; at the same time, cities continue to struggle to open their doors once again amidst the ongoing threat of COVID-19. While all four officers involved in the murder of George Floyd have now been arrested, citizens still fight for them to be convicted as protests rage on in all 50 states and 20+ countries worldwide to support the racial injustice towards the Black community.
Through it all, several photographers have risked their lives to document the stories unfolding on the frontlines. Captured in the streets alongside police and protesters at demonstrations all across the nation, these photos offer a glimpse of the true experiences of those protesting and seeking justice for the life of George Floyd, as well as numerous others in the Black community. Disclaimer: Some of the following images may be graphic and contain violence.
“After a week of police killings, a young protestor holds a sign expressing one of the biggest fears among Black youth and their parents. Photo from the Black Lives Matter protest in the Fairfax District of Los Angeles, CA. on May 30, 2020.” (Photo by Rob Liggins).
“The photo was taken on Saturday, May 30th, 2020. There was a peaceful protest going on near my house in West Hollywood, so I joined the protesters and we all collectively began walking to Downtown LA. During the 12 mile walk, we walked onto the 101 highway to peaceful sit on the highway as a sign of protest. We were then met with the police in full riot gear. After a 20 minute confrontation, they eventually let us pass. This photo was taken at the beginning of that peaceful confrontation.” (Photo by Zach Sutton).
“Pennsylvania State Troopers look on as protesters take to the streets in Downtown Pittsburgh on the evening of June 2, 2020.” (Photo by Nate Smallwood).
“On a night filled with riots and violence, an expecting mother was hard at work. With cries of joy, she brought her baby to her chest. SHE did it. Just minutes later, surrounded by her family, her father prayed. He gave thanks — for this new life, for keeping his daughter safe through labor, and for bringing the family together. Then he prayed for his grandson’s life, not knowing what the future holds for him as he grows into a man. His prayer was sobering. As the riots and violence continue, this baby’s life is a sign of grace and a reminder of the long fight ahead. #BlackLivesMatter.” (Photo by Elaine Baca).
“This is the story of a man named Jason (not me) who came to the BLM Protest on the Bentonville Square in order to protect the Confederate monument. This statue is located in the center of the Bentonville Square and has been subject to vandalism in past protests. So he sat on the statue with a quite and watchful eye. As protestors confronted him, arguments began to escalate. He had his beliefs on the meaning of the monument and protestors had theirs. But one thing everyone could agree upon was that police brutality needed to end. The protestors wanted him to abandon his post. They wanted him to stand with them. They wanted him to take their hand and join them. They promised the statue wouldn’t be harmed. They assured him that this protest was bigger than the statue. But he wanted to hold his ground. He explained he was on their side but he wanted to stay where he was. He wanted to be ignored. He wanted to remain a silent watcher. But silence is the issue. Just watching is the issue. Then something amazing happened. He told the crowd that if he was going to join them, he wanted to do more then just grab a hand and step down from his post. He wanted to jump in. So that’s what he did. He leaped down into the crowd and joined them. And this is what we need. We need silent watchers to stand and leap into the fight.” (Photos by Jason Vinson).
“This brave protestor overcame fear with art, speaking with music when words failed. Charleston, SC.” (Photo by Nora Williams).
“This was taken at a Chicago suburbs rally where white parents and black parents came together sharing their polar different experiences with their children.” (Photo by Jermaine Horton).
“In the midst of controversial statements surrounding protests, this photo embodies the essence of people protesting in unity and peace. This little girl, along with her family, chose to be a part of history. In this moment, she decided to run to the frontlines and walk hand in hand with one of the protest leaders. This photo represents the love and unity that we need to work towards in this country.” Photo taken during a peaceful protest on May 31, 2020 in Downtown Greensboro, NC. Photo by Kevin Greene.
“When I woke up on the morning of Sunday, May 31st. I had no intention of finding myself in the middle of a tense standoff between thousands of protesters and the Santa Monica swat team. My morning started like any other Sunday, beans over toast, orange juice, and a few youtube videos. When I signed into Youtube, I saw a live broadcast of what was going on in Santa Monica. I knew I had to be there, I felt obligated to go, and capture this moment in history. Within an hour of seeing the live broadcast, I was there, in the middle of what was the most chaotic situation I’ve ever witnessed. Buildings literally on fire, windows smashed out by looters, looted items and glass strewn all over the streets. The combination of sirens, screaming protesters, shouting police officers, stun grenades, and the constant ear piercingly loud ringing of dozens upon dozens of fire alarms making it hard to concentrate. In the short 3 hours I spent shooting, I was flash grenaded twice, sprayed with a fire hose, batoned by riot police, and almost arrested.” (Photos by Carsten Schertzer).
“Police vehicles with lights blazing escorted military convoys down an eerily empty Broad Street and into a staging area on the northwest corner of City Hall in Philadelphia. Troops were unloaded and organized into groups standing at the ready with a plethora of protective gear and weaponry.”
“As the chants of “take a knee'” echoed in front of the police headquarters in Philadelphia, the tension between the police and the protesters rose. Chief Inspector Melvin Singleton got out of his car, addressed the crowd and took a knee with them, calming the situation instantly. It was an incredibly powerful moment.” (Photos by Trupal Pandya).
“We arrived at the protest around 4:45pm in Rochester NY. There was a very big crowd we headed towards. What we thought was going to be a peaceful protest turned up very quickly. After being there for about five minutes, the cops decided to start firing tear gas into the crowds. People were screaming, running, and crying. Tear gas is extremely painful, but luckily we had wonderful people in the groups supporting everyone by carrying milk around. It was shortly after being tear-gassed that I approached the woman pictured. She was so passionate and so ready to fight in the protest. It was very emotional watching people from all over screaming and demanding change. We all want this change. Shortly after however rubber and pepper bullets started flying at the crowds and so did concussion grenades. It’s so hard to describe everything in a feeling. I was terrified, everyone was. It’s just so unsettling to see bullets being shot into crowds of innocent people with their hands up, but the cops didn’t seem to care. We all felt fear that day, but we also felt compelled to stay and be brave. This is a cause that is worth everything and I’m so glad I was able to help document that for the POC.” (Photo by Logan Brich).
“I just listened to the stories local black people in Union Square had to share with me and I challenged myself not to show their faces but to focus on the message.” (Photo by Priyanca Rao).
“This is image is from Friday evening, near the 8PM curfew. The protests were loud but peaceful. When a person from the crowd would throw something towards the heavily armed and armored National Guardsmen they would quickly be admonished by the protesters and pushed back. That wasn’t the show that they wanted. Earlier protesters confronted police who were trying to close escape routes and were pepper-sprayed, then shot with rubber bullets. I got hit square in the face with the spray while I was taking video. The protesters helped me get to safety as I was temporarily blinded in one eye and the pepper-spray was slowly working its way to the other eye.” (Photo by Zach Roberts).
Disclaimer: All images and quotes in this article are used with permission granted from the photographers.