The Emerald and Real Change gathered stories of local journalists covering this summer’s antiracist protests.
by Marcus Harrison Green, Lee Nacozy, Mark White, Kamna Shastri and Ashley Archibald
Editor’s Note: Local, trusted journalism is crucial to keep us informed and connected.
We believe in the power of journalism to shift perspectives, speak truth to power, and shine a light in the darkest corners.
And the South Seattle Emerald is proud to be part of a community of journalists, working to elevate the voices of our communities and reveal truth. This week, we’re launching an exciting new partnership with longtime friends of the newsroom, Real Change.
Real Change works for a just, caring and inclusive community, where people are no longer marginalized by racism and classism and have the means to live with dignity.
Real Change and the South Seattle Emerald will reprint stories across platforms, and partner for dual-reporting on bigger stories like the following one.
Joining Forces: The Emerald and Real Change are Working Together
by Marcus Harrison Green and Lee Nacozy
Reporting from protests is an exciting prospect in the newsroom, but feels like a questionable choice once you’re out there. Journalists are increasingly obstructed by police, distrusted by protesters and part of dissenters’ target.
The work of Real Change is relatable to the journalists of the South Seattle Emerald, a small social justice outlet similar to ours. In a move away from the historical competition in news markets and toward the abundance of shared resources, our teams will now join for special projects.
In initiation, we gathered stories of journalists working for the Emerald, The Stranger, and The Independent during the pandemic summer’s antiracist protests.
May 30: George Floyd Protest, Downtown Seattle
by Mark White /Real Change Photographer
When Real Change asked me to cover a George Floyd Protest at Westlake Center downtown, I jumped on it, not realizing I didn’t really understand what I was agreeing to.
I follow the news closely, mostly through newspaper apps. I watch virtually no news on television and listen to NPR maybe once a week. Of course I knew about the nationwide protests in response to George Floyd’s killing, but I hadn’t watched any film clips of the protests, and I somehow didn’t consider that Seattle’s event would turn as violent and chaotic as the other cities, where more recent police shootings had occurred.
I was completely unprepared for what was about to happen.
Partly because of my inexperience in covering events (I had only covered one previous news event as a photographer in my life), and partly from my general approach to photography, I didn’t capture a single image of the speakers at the rally, where thousands gathered before marching to shut down Interstate 5.
Instead, rather than covering the political protest itself (the speakers, rally and march), my focus was on the chaos that ensued once the police began teargassing the crowd — without warning.
That wasn’t my intention, but when I arrived at the event about 30 minutes before it was scheduled to start, I got caught in a maelstrom of protesters and police lines a half block away from where the rally was staged. The energy was electric. Tensions were high. With the exception of a macing incident between a cop and a protester in a gas mask, who was hell-bent on mocking the police, the first hour was peaceful. Angry, tense, loud, dynamic … but peaceful.
In other words, it was an adrenaline-producing, full-throated exercise of First Amendment rights.
Although I knew I had a journalistic commitment to capture at least some of the speakers, I figured every other news source would be doing just that. I decided to stay on the police lines. That’s where I kept cameras focused.
When I referred earlier to my “general approach to photography,” I was referring to my penchant as a street photographer for capturing everyday people and moments. When I walk the streets, I try to document stories of people in the streets. I try to uncover detail that would otherwise go undetected.
At the George Floyd Protest, I stayed focused on a police officer named Karman for awhile. I was taken by his calm demeanor amidst all the shouting and the ongoing interaction he had with one protester in particular.
I also have a series of close-up images of two of his police colleagues on the front line, where I stationed, who were throwing or shooting the tear gas canisters into the crowd.
I had two cameras — a Fuji X-T3 with a 35MM prime and my Olympus OMD with a 40-150 zoom. Both are mirrorless cameras, which I find perfect for street shooting. But like I said, this was only my second news event, and once the frenetic activity between the police and protesters started, the zoom became useless to me.
The lens was fine while the crowd remained relatively static. I was able to use it to isolate individual faces and signage in the scrum of thousands of others. But since I had no experience shooting with it on the fly, 90 percent of my shots with it once the teargas started flowing were out of focus and useless. I had only previously used it for landscape and architectural shots — in other words, in very still, calm, non-dynamic environments.
The other problem I had was that, aside from the cotton face mask I was wearing for Covid, I wasn’t wearing any protective gear, such as a gas mask like I noticed several journalists in the crowd wearing.
The fumes from the first round of gas felt as if my eyes had smacked into a barbed-wired fence. It burnt like hell, but it only took me a few minutes to recover.
But at another point amid the chaos, I found myself on top of a protester, pulling him off a journalist (he was assaulting her on the ground). To break up our scuffle, the police tossed a canister at my feet. (Who knows why they didn’t intervene when the clearly marked journalist was being assaulted.)
The gas singed my right hand and the right side of my face and neck pretty badly. For the next 48 hours, my skin felt as if I had a severe sun burn, and I experienced significant chest pains and breathing difficulties. I was treated at an urgent care unit for bronchospasm, which were caused by the chemical irritants and took a week to clear up. The tear gas also forced me and many others around me to remove our Covid face masks to try to deal with the intense irritation and pain, which significantly increased our potential exposure to the virus.
For nearly 30 minutes after being gassed, I could not hold my camera with my right hand, and I was unable to open my right eye. So an entire series of shots in the early stage of the tear gassing were taken with my left hand and my left eye, which resulted in some pretty horrible shots. When I recovered, I was able to shoot again as normal.
For more of Mark White’s photos and blog posts, including “Yes, Mayor and Chief of Police, Your Police Did Not Warn People That Tear Gas Was Coming (20 Times),” visit mjwhitephotos.com.
Cross Referencing is Crucial
Reflections from South Seattle Emerald journalist Elizabeth Turnbull
by Kamna Shastri / Real Change Staff Reporter
Before Elizabeth Turnbull set out to cover the protests for #JusticeforGeorgeFloyd that last weekend of May, her journalism colleagues and mentors cautioned her to take protective gear in case of tear gas or violence during the protests. Turnbull thanked them for the suggestions, but assumed she wouldn’t need to take such precautions.
The protesters gathered at City Hall, where Not This Time’s Andre Taylor was speaking. “At the same time he was urging for peaceful protests,” Turnbull said, “that’s when things really escalated and that’s the first day I got tear gassed.
“And I just remember it was raining and I was trying to live tweet and I couldn’t type fast enough because of the rain on my phone. There were other police cars on fire. … Someone grabbed a gun from one of the police cars, and we were all running away.
“I just remember that there was a lot of running at the end of it. It was so bizarre. There were a lot of reports of these being antifa and stuff like that. I don’t know how it was possible for someone to make that generalization because there was just a lot going on.”
Turnbull reported on the protests, ensuing police violence, the abandoning of the East Precinct and the establishment of the CHOP for a whirlwind 27 days for the Emerald.
“I think that a lot of people, myself included, haven’t been exposed to that kind of police action, partly because of my identity as a white woman.
“Something that I found a little frustrating, and I know other journalists have found this too, is that there has just been a lot of emphasis on ‘how can you do this to the press? The press is being teargassed; they are getting shot with rubber bullets.’ Obviously, that is not a good thing — shouldn’t be happening — but what I’m realizing is a lot of protesters have been getting a lot worse. It’s way worse for protesters; they just have less coverage and less access to the media, which we are,” Turnbull said.
Real Change spoke with Turnbull about her reflections on journalism and covering a mass movement for a local, grassroots publication.
How has your perception of journalism been impacted by the experience of covering the protests?
I realize it’s really important that journalism is out there and that media outlets are out there. I think I’ve also realized that supplementary information like livestreams have also become something people rely on heavily. It’ll be interesting to see how that plays out in the long term — whether news sites are going to be implementing more live-streams.
I think sometimes the news doesn’t cover things comprehensively, as a livestream can. You really need to understand the context, and the way to do that is to follow updates hourly, daily, to kind of get that experience for themselves.
It’s been interesting engaging with SPD blotters and stuff like that, and also cross-referencing that with experiences I’ve seen and I think other protesters have seen and things that have been caught on livestream. … I wonder how future cross-referencing is going to change.
What are your thoughts on how different kinds of media (national, local, independent) frame news stories about current events like those we’ve seen this summer?
Especially pertaining to the CHOP — that is when I really knew it was a nationwide narrative, and I also picked up on how those outlets go about reporting it.
What was interesting about the CHOP is there was no real leadership and it was rather diffused, so you can’t really say this is what this space of land is. The CHOP was established very organically: Police left the precinct, and the protesters marched by and said, ‘This felt like a trap; we’ll set up camp here.’ Some of the protesters think somebody had an agenda and started spray painting CHAZ. But there were narratives that were trying to be pushed, but you wouldn’t know that if you weren’t out there every day.
You had this Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone sort of established in a lot of ways by people there, and protesters would be like ‘This is the CHAZ,’ but also [it was] adopted by the media and latched onto by the media.
I think that is the danger of not understanding the kind of dynamics of the space and just going there and not questioning it either. It’s really complicated because initially protesters were not calling it the CHAZ. … When you fail to look into that deeper, you threaten to propel a narrative that was not intended by people who are interested in the Black Lives Matter cause and you actually threaten to endanger people.
I remember there was this one protester who was disputing the name CHAZ, because if you are going to call yourself an autonomous zone then technically you are a foreign entity occupying the U.S., and then they have cause for coming in and getting rid of you guys.
But what we’ve seen in Portland is that things actually can be taken very seriously by the current administration, and people are paying for that.
So it’s made me really examine national media, examine how much of a right — how much of a perspective they have, expertise they have on whatever they are reporting on, and what is this doing to the people in those places who are being reported on.
That’s why journalism is a tool for much good, but it is also a tool that can cause much harm.
It’s really our responsibility to be wary of national media coverage and cross reference it with local reports. Also, for national coverage, they should be out there — they should be recruiting reporters who have been out there every single day, or they should send their reporters out there, because you cannot get a holistic coverage of any event without doing that.
The stakes are really high right now. Accuracy is paramount right now.
The above responses were edited for space and clarity.
Kamna Shastri is a staff reporter covering narrative and investigative stories for Real Change. She has a background in community journalism. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @KShastri2
Where Every Surface is a Canvas
The Stranger’s Jasmyne Keimig sees art rise from conflict
by Ashley Archibald/ Real Change Staff Reporter
As June 7 dragged into June 8, protesters and police clashed in the streets of Capitol Hill. Jasmyne Keimig, the arts and culture reporter for The Stranger, watched from her paper’s offices in the building immediately above, livestreaming and narrating events on the ground. The acrid sting of tear gas wafted up to her perch, even several stories up.
It was afterward, when the dust had settled and she had time to reflect on what she had witnessed, that Keimig had the space to consider the intensity of what she had experienced.
“That was very scary. Anything could have happened,” Keimig said. “And then, out of that, this protest pops up and takes back the space.”
The protest would ultimately become an occupation of several blocks of the city that lasted roughly three weeks, until police came in the dead of night on July 1 to sweep it out. In that fluid time, the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest (CHOP) evolved into a site of education, organization and healing.
It also became a hotbed of art.
Keimig is fascinated by street art. In “normal” times, she regularly features original sticker work caught in the wild on lampposts and walls throughout the city — little signs that an artistic, mildly subversive spirit of the city remains intact.
Every surface in the CHOP became an opportunity for art — even the fencing on the playfield, which hosted a giant Black power fist. Protesters crowdfunded the money for a crane to place the massive piece, Keimig said.
“What interested me was the democratizing of a street and place because there was no one saying, ‘Hey, you can’t spray paint the street,’ or ‘you can’t do this, you can’t do that,’” Keimig said. “I think what I learned a lot about writing about art in CHOP and writing about CHOP itself is that there was no permission structure. As long as it was respectful and felt not racist or imperialist or anything like that, you could take whatever space you wanted.”
It became a naturally shifting experiment in art in an urban setting, where everything from the walls of the precinct to the roadway to basic protest signs became canvases — opportunities for messaging.
“This turned over so quickly. I would come back the next day and things would be so different — something had been moved, something had been rethought. It was a lot to keep up with. Every time I wrote about something, it changed or a new development happened,” Keimig said.
It was a test for her and her colleagues. The onslaught of the coronavirus decimated The Stranger’s funding model, forcing the paper to lay off 18 staff and cease publication of the physical product. The disease did not pause for coverage, meaning those doing the work on the ground were coming into the office rather than reporting remotely.
But the location of The Stranger’s building in Capitol Hill made it ideal for reporting on the protests, a luxury that the staff shared with local and international outlets like The Seattle Times and Reuters. The Stranger would move out of that location roughly a week after CHOP was cleared.
“It felt like the office had one protest left in her,” Keimig said.
Much of the physical trappings that created the CHOP are gone. Some have been erased; others, moved and safeguarded by creators and city departments. That gives Keimig pause.
“I hate to be that person who says, ‘Well you had to be there,’ but I do think encountering it in real time was powerful,” Keimig said. “I’m curious to re-encounter it in a different context as well, because I didn’t see every single thing that was put up. I’m curious what an interaction between a viewer and a George Floyd memorial spraypainted on the side of a piece of plywood, encountering that in a museum — how will I feel differently encountering it in that moment, too?”
Arrested and Assaulted While Working
Andrew Buncombe has covered revolutions before, but arrest was a first
by Ashley Archibald / Staff Reporter
It is a truism among journalists that you want to report the story — you don’t want to be the story. Andrew Buncombe, chief U.S. correspondent of The Independent, has covered revolutions, the announcement of Fidel Castro’s decision to step aside as the leader of Cuba and the aftermath of Osama Bin Laden’s killing by U.S. forces.
But it was in Seattle, covering the clearing of CHOP, that he was first arrested and charged with a crime: a misdemeanor of “failure to disperse.” And then, he became part of the story.
“I was startled and kept thinking any minute they’re going to say, ‘Hey, this guy is a reporter; we’re going to let him go,’” Buncombe said.
The morning of July 1, Buncombe lined up off of Broadway, outside of CHOP. Police had blocked off the area with emergency tape, keeping protesters and media sidelined as they conducted their operation. Buncombe insists that he did not cross the police tape when officers shouted for him to stay back.
“I’ve only got an iPhone; I’ve not got a long lens, was on the side of the police tape, had my press badge out and said I’m a member of the media,” Buncombe said. “I said, ‘I think I have the right to be here.’”
The officer disagreed.
“The next thing I know, I’ve been arrested. My hands are behind my back. My phone has been taken from me. I’m being marched at some pace to the police vehicle,” Buncombe said.
Buncombe describes what followed in his piece “I was arrested, jailed and assaulted by a guard. My ‘crime’? Being a journalist in Trump’s America,” which ran on The Independent’s website on July 9. He and others were chained, put into police vehicles and transported to the West Precinct. His phone was taken. The arresting officers did not tell him a charge, but he would later be informed that it was “failure to disperse.”
Seattle’s municipal code makes room for journalists to cover protests and events, largely exempting them from “failure to disperse” orders unless they’re “physically obstructing lawful efforts by such an officer to disperse the group.”
That is a privilege afforded to journalists as observers and primary-source documentarians. It is one of many that Buncombe — as a self-described middle-aged, middle class, white man — enjoys.
“In that moment, with those privileges being removed and being a regular member of the public, it felt very disorienting,” Buncombe said.
There is a famous story from the 2016 election where Ben Jacobs, a journalist for The Guardian, was assaulted by Greg Gianforte, then a Republican candidate for a Montana congressional seat. Jacobs was loaded into an ambulance, from which he called his paper and got the story out. His broken glasses were sent to the Newseum in Washington D.C., which has since closed.
Buncombe decided to “make lemonade out of lemons.” He started reporting.
He found a pencil in his cell and tore apart paper sacks and began talking to people in the room with him, jotting down notes about his experience.
“It was disturbing and disquieting, but at some point, the adrenaline kicks in and it gets you through. And then you’re out on the street, and people who have been in there a moment ago aren’t out on the street because they don’t have your privilege,” Buncombe said.
He struggled to write the piece, in part because he felt ill, drained and coughing.
“I thought, shit, I must have this coronavirus,” Buncombe said. In his piece, he describes standing in a cell with 10 other people, less than a foot apart. He describes the smell, and one protester vomiting. The single faucet above a toilet that he refused to use out of fear of contracting the virus.
He ultimately recovered, without having contracted the disease, which he also chalks up to privilege — coronavirus has disproportionately impacted Black and Brown people, both in infections and deaths.
Asked why he wrote the piece and what he hoped it would accomplish, Buncombe said that he hoped it would do some good, but that those moments in journalism can be fleeting.
“The only thing any of us can do is witnessing,” he said.
Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Ashley on Twitter @AshleyA_RC.
Featured image by Mark White