From Ferguson to Baltimore, Baton Rouge to Charlotte, and so many points in between, citizens have consumed a steady stream of dramatic protest photos. (All the pictures in this post, by the way, come from the recent protests in Charlotte over the killing of Keith Lamont Scott.)
Drawn to the street after these acts of violence, people express themselves by marching, holding up signs and attending rallies. In some instances, there is shouting at or even the taunting of the police. And in still fewer instances, there is engagement in civil disobedience and even lawlessness. From the dramatic news photos, however, it would be understandable if you read the ratio differently. You might also think that the protests skew black, young, male and lawless — just like the profiling that got many of these black men killed by police in the first place. But it’s not just young people and not just African-Americans attending these protests. There is typically a cross section of people of different genders, ages, and races that engage, as you can see in this photo below. (Full size here.)
We all know the maxim, though, if it bleeds (or rages or seethes), it leads. So what we end up with are overheated slideshows and photo galleries — editors and publishers typically consisting of, and catering to a different demographic — seduced by the sense of open warfare or a battle zone. That being the case, what viewers are consistently exposed to are dramatic images of young back males, often partially naked, sagging, wearing sport caps, maybe a face-covering bandana, engaging with riot cops. In other words, what we’re seeing is a repetition of the stereotype, the images associating young black men with criminal and gangs, with savages and/or dark, foreign objects.
The photos come in different permutations, of course. The news photo leading the post enunciates the stereotype through the aesthetic of portraiture. Other times, the scenes are kinetic, evoking primal nature and qualities of force, chaos and the protester’s explosiveness (here, in kicking away a tear gas canister).
Other times, the protesters are artfully captured in silhouette, reflective of the larger body of the angry and aggrieved, but also evocative of the darkness and nakedness of the primitive, “the other.”
It’s the prevalence of the stereotyping that’s makes the photo below, from this Charlotte Magazine photo post, so distinctive.
Striking a completely different note, this couple, arm in arm, conveys a sense of family and domesticity when the stereotype is anything but. As much as their presence indicates solidarity/showing up, the couple is framed for their thoughtfulness versus a reactivity, highlighting their inquisitiveness, concern and their role as witnesses. They are well dressed, the man wearing a natty ochre shirt with matching tie. Whatever their income or employment status, the couple read as working class when the news photos so often equate these killings and their environs with the impoverished, the wayward or destitute, and with urban decay. And, obviously, this is at least one as compelling, “disarming” and affirming image of a young black man.
Overall, however, if this photo is more respectful of community, mindfulness and especially, the depiction of the black male, what’s as disturbing about the portrait as the others is its novelty.
(photos 1 and 4 and 5: Logan Cyrus/Charlotte Magazine. caption: Protestors voiced frustrations to armored CMPD officers as they stand on Old Concord Road. photo 2: Chuck Burton/AP. caption: Protests over Charlotte police shooting. Demonstrators fill the streets in downtown Charlotte. photo 3: Jeff Siner/The Charlotte Observer via AP. caption: Protesters demonstrate in Charlotte, N.C., Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016. Authorities used tear gas to disperse protesters in an overnight demonstration that broke out Tuesday after Keith Lamont Scott was fatally shot by an officer at an apartment complex.)