Photos and Text by Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory
The photographs comprising this series of composite images were all taken in New York City on Tuesday, Nov. 25, one day after the announcement that white police officer Darren Wilson from Ferguson, Missouri would not be indicted in the shooting death of Michael Brown. Due to the fluid nature of the protests, they range in location from Union Square Park to spots along the path of a breakout march that traveled from the Park to the entrance of the Brooklyn Bridge’s Manhattan entrance. Individuals participating came to protest not only the handling of Wilson’s would-be case, but also the NYPD as an institution, the historical treatment of minorities by law enforcement and the nation’s history of racial inequality and injustice.
These photos are not meant to express an opinion either way on the grand jury’s verdict pertaining to Darren Wilson. Rather, they are meant to serve as a visual history of what I personally perceived to be a second coming of the 1960’s spirit of nonviolent protest and civil-rights demonstration. I chose to go with composite images because I felt this methods most accurately reflected the spirit of the night’s protests — people uniting in such a way that individual names and faces came second to their united reason for being there, the effect that their mass presence and inertia had on their surroundings and the energy created by this sociocultural domino effect of the night.
Regardless of one’s opinion on the Michael Brown shooting or of Wilson’s legal fate, two things are true: (1) Depictions of minorities asserting social, cultural or political power are historically underrepresented in the American media and (2) Groups of protestors predominantly led by persons of color within the context of American protest culture have often been dismissed as “rioters” rather than demonstrators and/or assumed to be violent, even when the only things wielded during their demonstrations are words.
This project looked to change that.
Most importantly, though, one of the most earnest and repetitive requests currently being communicated by the African-American community following the no-indictment announcement has been a simple request: for persons of color to take control of the narrative, and for white Americans to exercise allyship predominately through witness and the empowerment of diverse voices and perspectives.
So, while these images portray protestors of various backgrounds, this collection of images is chiefly meant to make good on that request: to bear witness from the background, to be a vessel for this necessary storyline without becoming the subject.
To keep this dialogue going, all you’ve got to do is watch, listen and remember.