I watch from my perch in Ogden Utah, 30 miles north of Salt Lake as the world wobbles out of control. The year 2020 arrived and COVID-19 swept across the country. Meanwhile, the President of the divided United States wrapped himself in conspiracy theories and spewed outright lies, fueling the body count by his sheer negligence and stunning incompetence.
On 18 March I awoke to go the work, had a cup of coffee with my wife and I was about to leave I turned to her and said “Babe, do you know what I would like today” and she answered no. “I want a normal day! I am so tired of crazy!” She laughed and I drove to work 20 minutes away. I knew something was wrong the minute my phone starting ringing as I walked into the lobby.
My excited wife is on the other end and asked “Did you feel that?? The whole house was shaking! I think we just had a earthquake!” It turns out it was nearly a 6 on the Richter scale. The year 2020 had already been a huge challenge but what I didn’t know was worse was to come.
On 25 May, a policeman with his knee on a black man’s neck in Minneapolis would trigger an earthquake of a different sort. But instead of a 6 on the Richter scale, this would be a 9 on the political scale.
All the images here were captured with my Fujifilm X-T4. I used my Voightlander 40mm, Fujifilm 18-55mm and Fujifilm 55-200mm.
I am a man, an African-American man to be specific. I was born in Raleigh North Carolina and joined the Air Force one month after my 19th birthday. My first assignment was Onizuka AF station in northern California. Besides the palm trees, what struck me after living there a couple of months was interracial dating. Amazing. I didn’t really see too much of that, if any in Raleigh.
There were lines. My parents briefed me and my three brothers on those lines. When dealing with the police keep your hands visible keep it “yes sir, no sir” and don’t provoke them because it will not end well for you. And I told my bi-racial children the same with special emphasis for our only son when it came to the police. There are lines. But maybe those lines are starting to crack and break after 400 years of enforcement.
There has always been a deep political divide in America but our recent history has seen the fault lines widened, exasperated by the public lynching of George Floyd by a Minneapolis policeman as his colleagues stood by and casually watched. These images were beamed around the world for all to see.
The murder of Ahmaud Arbery in February, as he jogged in a white neighborhood had already ratcheted up racial tensions. The killing of Breonna Taylor by policeman in her own home as she slept added even more fuel to the raging fire in the African-American community.
Some people say racial tensions have worsened under Trump but most African-Americans would respond as the actor Will Smith did “Things haven’t gotten bad, they’ve gotten filmed.”
Thirty years ago Los Angeles burned after the Rodney King riots and here we are again. But these protests are different, focused not only on police brutality but the persistent systemic and institutional racism still gripping our country. This time the people protesting are not only African-American but people from across racial lines. A rainbow coalition of Caucasians, Asian-Americans, LatinX people have been joined by the LGBTQ community in this struggle for equal rights and opportunities too long denied. At the heart of this dynamic movement, despite their disparate backgrounds, leading the demand for change is the youth of our country.
To truly understand how we have arrived at this pivotal moment in our history, one must move beyond police brutality. The police function as the pointy end of the spear of oppression, a blunt tool among many used to ensure white supremacy. Make no mistake, what has befallen African-Americans and other peoples of color in this country has been a carefully crafted and well executed plan to ensure the true reins of power are always held in white hands. These laws, hobbling African-Americans have been enshrined and reinforced no matter what administration is in power. Banks have red-lined entire zip codes making it hard for African-Americans to receive loans for homes or to start a business. Voter suppression efforts by the Republican party have been persistent and effective especially after the Supreme Court gutted a key provision of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that protected access to the ballot box for minorities. Southern states no longer needed approval from federal judges before changing voting laws in their communities. With the federal restraints removed, most southern states have eagerly erected new barriers to disenfranchise the black vote.
The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in January of 2020 was another body blow to the African-American community. Due to poor social-economic conditions, the mortality rate among African-Americans is three times the rate of their white counterparts. Unemployment in the African-American community has jumped from a historic low under the Obama administration to 16.7 percent largely due to COVID-19. The world is reeling but in Ogden I witnessed both despair…and hope.
The northern chapter of Black Lives Matter organized a protest against the killing of George Floyd. My wife and were hesitant to participate because of the pandemic. We had been following the CDC recommendations and severely limited our social gatherings while practicing social distancing and wearing a mask. But in the end we decided to attend because we felt we had no choice. We wanted our voices added to the millions of Americans who were standing up and saying enough is enough, tired of dealing with racist policies. It would have been an affront to all the previous generations who have struggled, marched, and some who paid the ultimate price for standing up to oppression.
So on a beautiful Saturday afternoon we drove to downtown Ogden just off historic 25th street. At first we were surprised and a bit disappointed by the small size of the crowd. It seemed maybe twenty to thirty people were present in front of the Ogden municipal building but our fears of a weak turnout were soon put to rest. As if from nowhere people began to materialize, throngs of black, white, Asian, LatinX, people of all ages but especially the young! Soon the leadership of Black Lives Matters started to speak. An air of excitement rippled through the crowd as people raised their voices and their signs of defiance for the world to see.
The first issue the leadership of Black Lives Matter addressed was the theme of non-violence. They wanted a peaceful protest and advised any agitators or people looking for trouble to depart. They thanked the Ogden police who were present in force for their cooperation in organizing the protest and saluted an Ogden police officer who was killed the previous day while responding to a domestic dispute. The crowd responded with warm support for the fallen officer.
As I cautiously made my way around I noticed a few people openly carrying firearms (legal in Utah) and this felt uncomfortable because of the charged atmosphere permeating the country. It wouldn’t take much to spark a confrontation. One man was carrying his holstered pistol, his phone out recording the crowd while the other seemed to stay on the peripheral, observing people from a distance.
The protest came to a peaceful end. It lasted just a few hours and truthfully it is just a beginning, so much remains to be done to defeat the scourge of police brutality and white supremacy in the United States. The roots of hatred run very deep and permeate all segments of American society but on this day one got the feeling that something fundamental had changed.
Perhaps what I witnessed in Ogden on this day, indeed across America was the winds of change blowing wild and free, a new generation of diverse ethnic groups and sexual backgrounds coming together to have their voices heard, their message unmistakable “Black Lives do Matter”! Witness the season….of our discontent.