Hello helicopter my old fr…

I’m posting some observations from yesterday’s protests. Very light on documentary photography. Before you read this I’d head to the Capitol Hill Seattle Blog for an overview. I repeat that later on in the text below. Justin is very well-connected, and he highlights the work of incredible local journalists and photojournalists.

‘Tough days ahead’ — Seattle braces for ‘solidarity w/ PDX’ clashes — UPDATE: Saturday big march and fire at the youth jail leads to riot on Capitol Hill

Posted on Sunday, July 26, 2020 – 7:00 am by jseattle

Feels like it’s June again. Lots of bangs, pepper spray, armored police wielding batons, and the incessant drone of Mayor Durkan’s surveillance helicopter. I wonder how much surveillance data the Seattle Police Department is hoovering. I hope there’s a hard charging UW-trained investigative journalist who is on the verge of getting a Seattle Police Department source to spill the beans.

If you haven’t been following the news, there are protests in Seattle. The protests have been ongoing, in various forms, since the murder of George Floyd. This weekend sees an added component – solidarity with protesters in Portland. And DHS sent a brute squad to Seattle to express its solidarity with Portland’s brute squad.

Seeing footage of excessively militarized, vaguely identified agents or officers snatching people off the streets should worry everyone. I don’t think it does, though. We’re about three months away from the election. I suspect Trump is happy to see the tension and confrontations continue. I fear a terrible miscalculation.

I’m not sure where this ends. And I’m not saying there aren’t leaders out there discussing ideas for peacefully and meaningfully addressing protesters’ demands. I need to do a better job of finding that writing or those discussions. I haven’t been the most focused person the past five months. Any suggestions?

I caught up with Saturday’s protest march on 12th Avenue, not too far north of the youth detention facility. There was a lot of smoke in the distance. The best resource for learning about that and the protests in general is Justin’s Capitol Hill Seattle Blog. Here’s the Tweeter. Justin’s very good about citing a lot of local journalists.

I took a few photos, but I was on edge during the walk over. Protesters are understandably concerned about who’s taking photos and where they’re going in Patriot Act Surveillance State America. I don’t blame them, even though I’d argue they’re not thinking it through completely. Look around and there are smart phones everywhere streaming the events. The camera in today’s smart phones is as good or better than my camera. Those people are all loading straight to social media. I’m not on social media. The police surveillance in a one mile radius of the East Precinct is probably bonkers. If you have a phone with you at the protests, someone knows you were at the protests. None of that matters. I understand why protesters are sensitive about photos. But I also worry about the photos we’ll be missing in 2 years, 20 years. We’ll want them, we need them.

I took a few photos of the march. A woman very politely asked me not to take photos. Heard. I put the lens cap on and tried to switch to audio. I couldn’t put any coherent sentences together. I wandered around. Got a slice of pizza at Big Mario’s before most of the Pike / Pine businesses closed for the night.

Protest march, Capitol Hill, Seattle, 25 July 2020.Protest march, Capitol Hill, Seattle, 25 July 2020.

Protest march, Capitol Hill, Seattle, 25 July 2020.

Smoke from fires at the King County youth jail site. Seattle, 25 July 2020Smoke from fires at the King County youth jail site. Seattle, 25 July 2020

Smoke from fires at the King County youth jail site. Seattle, 25 July 2020

Made my way to Cal Anderson and Seattle Central College. Tense, violent interactions. The police were using a lot of flash bangs (or blast balls?) and advancing on protesters. The aid stations were busy tending to painful injuries. Eye rinses, bandages, ice packs. People stripping off pepper sprayed clothes. I sliced up an audio file if you’d like to hear some of the protest sounds. It’s not polished or coherent, I kept starting and stopping. When you listen, keep in mind that I was using a Røde Wireless Go system. That’s a small microphone that was attached to my pocket, sending the data to the paired mic and recorder that was in my backpack.

I’m amazed by the protesters’ organization. Sure, there are moments where it seems like a cluster, with megaphone wielders contradicting one another. But the level of organization is incredible. Routes, communication, supplies, aid stations. I suspect most of it is decentralized. They have their communication networks established, with smaller sub groups self-organizing. Most of the leaders are young, and they’re well-versed in protest strategies and tactics, including police tactics.

I thought things were going to get very ugly at Madison, Union, and 12th. The march paused there for a bit, and the bullhorn-carrying leaders seemed to be offering conflicting instructions. An armed guard was standing outside the Ferrari shop. Tensions escalated. I don’t think security armed with long guns is a good idea, but the guard seemed to keep his composure. Protestors confronted him. The guard tried to shake hands with a protestor. The protestor spit on him. The march moved on.

Before that encounter I listened as one of the march leaders calmly and clearly offered instructions while what I assume were flash bangs were going off closer to the East Precinct. Again, the organization is impressive. The leader was doing what any platoon leader or NCO trains to do. She was looking out for her people, considering the terrain, and carrying on with the mission. I was in the Army. She was a better platoon leader than I ever was. (That I wasn’t very good at it is beside the point.)

I decided to go home for a bit. I mistakenly thought tensions wouldn’t rise until later in the night, so I wasn’t prepared. My risk of getting pepper sprayed is pretty low, because I’m not as daring as I was 20 years ago, but I still wanted a helmet.

I ventured back out around 2000. I walked to 11th and Pine, and it felt like June 2020 again. Armored police, bangs, smoke, determined protesters. I was more comfortable taking photos. I think when it starts getting dark people are more comfortable with the idea that there are people documenting the events. I don’t add much value in those situations, though. The people getting the most important images at night are fearless.

I walked over to the other side of 11th and Pine. Strange intersection to be at. It was oddly relaxed. A few guys wearing body armor who seemed buzzed were engaging in banter with the police. Police carrying batons. It was hard to place the dynamic. I chatted with Alex Garland for a bit, which is always nice. One of the hardest working photojournalists out there.

I headed home. Took a few obligatory Dick’s pics. A window at the Verizon store across from Nacho Borracho was shattered.

4 thoughts on “Hello helicopter my old fr…

  1. This is the second or third time I’ve looked at this frame, at the bottom. Christ, did you feel like you were pushing your luck at all? Intimidation factor is extreme with the riot gear. The portrait chillingly encapsulates the tension and risk of being around law enforcement the past month, that’s for sure. the highlights of the traffic signal are eerie, reminds me of getting pulled over and shined and doing my best to not seem suspicious or threatening as I listen to the crunching of highway patrol’s footsteps in the shoulder (speaking from experience, got pulled over by clallum county sheriff last summer very late one night but let off with a friendly warning…..it was before I chopped off my super long hippie hair but I think having my oldest in the car yawning over and over considerably helped my image). Bantering with the cops while buzzed seems like a bad combination. How would you have navigated a scenario like this if it was just you standing there? is that a complete no go? A case by case basis, obviously. I know that sounds like a stupid question.


    1. Man, those are good questions. Reason #422 that blogs are better than social media! Oh I love talking about photos and images, this is what it’s about! This was actually a pretty relaxed corner of the hill that night. The riot geared officer is definitely a reflection of … hmm … struggling for the description … my interpretation. Let me borrow your wording, you said it well – the tension and risk of being around law enforcement the past month. Even though this intersection was chill, you knew that it could change at any moment. Why else are these people carrying clubs and wearing riot gear? People of color and people on the weaker side of the power imbalance probably see routine traffic stops like this. Lots to think about with your question. But this was a relaxed moment, and there wasn’t as much tension in this photo as others I have taken. I’m not an in your face photographer (AKA I lack the courage necessary for really meaningful shots). I was fairly far away. For context, fearless Alex Garland was five feet closer taking photos.


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