Chattanooga’s ongoing fight against police brutality and racial injustice, through my lens.
My stomach wrenched as I watched the video of Minneapolis Police officers murdering George Floyd in broad daylight. Never before was my privilege as a white person in America so clear to me. I recognized that I’d never faced the violence and discrimination my Black friends and neighbors face every day and that I likely never would. I’d never feared for my own life after being pulled over for a traffic violation, or merely walking past an officer on the street.
But like so many white Americans who were jarred awake by the egregious acts of violence and injustice we’ve witnessed so viscerally in the past year, my heart ached, and my blood boiled. When Chattanooga’s Black community leaders chose to stand up and speak out, despite the fears of COVID-19 and the dissent of many complacent, conservative naysayers, I
felt proud to stand behind them.
I knew this was not my movement, though. I don’t believe it’s the duty of white people to
chant the loudest or place their experiences and perspectives in the middle of the movement for Black lives, which is why I struggled in deciding whether to even photograph demonstrations or share this written account. There are so many talented and passionate storytellers of color in Chattanooga to document this movement—their movement.
However, I do believe that anyone who considers themself an “ally” has a duty to amplify Black voices, to use their talents, platforms, and social networks to push the movement forward. It’s our duty to remain aware, despite our privileged ability to forget, that people of color in our own city face injustice every single day, and to remind those who share and exercise that same privilege. We don’t need to shout the loudest, but we should shout, nonetheless.
We should also be willing to have uncomfortable conversations about the flaws in our
justice system, and we should push those conversations upon those who choose comfort and ignorance, whether it’s a racist uncle or a City Council member. Frankly, we should give our elected representatives unbridled hell until they implement change that guarantees equity for people of color and holds law enforcement accountable for committing and covering up violence.
Above all, I believe it’s our duty to recognize, as City Council candidate and I Can’t Breathe
Chattanooga co-founder Marie Mott has said, that this is a movement, not a moment. There are so many powerful, fleeting moments which comprise the greater movement, though—fists in the air, heads bowed in prayer, a community marching in unison, a bystander rinsing tear gas from an innocent demonstrator’s eyes, a heartfelt chant, a hand on a shoulder.
These are the moments that define the movement for Black lives in Chattanooga, the
moments that offer a glimpse into the hearts of those fighting for liberation. When I see these moments unfold, I don’t see hatred or vengeance, although it’d be totally justified. There's genuine anguish and anger, sure, but there’s also unity and healing. There’s passion. There’s love and concern for one another that transcends skin color and social status.
What better way to preserve these moments than through a still photograph? What better
way to dispel the misconception that “protesters are violent,” and to demand the attention of those basking in privilege, ignoring their fellow man’s cry for justice? What better way to
preserve the tireless efforts of community leaders and activists in Chattanooga’s history?
I would never claim to fully understand the experiences and perspectives of my Black
neighbors, but thanks to those who have generously opened their hearts to myself and their
community, I’m able to empathize to a higher degree. And while I typically enjoy being an
observer, a fly on the wall, standing on the sidewalk and pointing my camera does no more for me than it does for anyone who sees my photos. They offer a glimpse, but it’s nothing compared to the understanding you can gain by stepping onto the street, walking alongside the revolutionaries, and leaning into the tough conversations they’re garnering in Chattanooga.
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Venmo @icantbreatheCHA to assist with legal fees for Chattanooga protesters facing charges.
Read my most recent photographic essay, Street Diaries II: Beacons of Hope, which accounts
Chattanooga’s response to COVID-19, or purchase the zine here. Half of the proceeds will be
donated to the United Way Restore Hope Fund, for COVID-19 relief in Chattanooga.