I want to start this blog post by thanking all of my friends, family, co-workers and everyone else for their concern for checking on me.
Saturday evening I received a text message from my editor saying riot police had been dispatched in response to heated confrontations between angry protestors and the police on Sherman Blvd. and Burleigh St. in Milwaukee. I told him I was headed out to see what was happening. I grew up in Milwaukee and am interning at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel this summer while living at home to save money for school. My dad insisted on coming with me as my driver and we drove a few minutes down the road to the scene.
The area where this happened has been riddled with several small violent protests this summer. Most of those incidents involved only a couple dozen people. When we arrived at the intersection a car on Sherman and Auer St. was just beginning to burn – not at all what I was expecting. I jumped out of the car, cameras slung around both shoulders, and was immediately greeted with racial slurs thrown at me from both sides as I jogged north towards the burning car.
I stood in the median of the road and began snapping photos. I looked to my left and saw a line of riot police headed from the side street, Auer, towards Sherman Blvd. As I lifted up my camera, in my right peripheral vision I saw a silhouetted hand rise from a large group of around 100 people with a gun. I saw around 10 rounds shot in quick succession into the air.
I ran for cover behind a large Chevy Suburban where I found two fellow Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporters, Aaron Mak and Jacob Carpenter. I began to frantically pray for my safety, Aaron and Jake’s safety, and everyone around me. I raised my camera and snapped frames of riot police ducking for safety behind trees, homes and cars. Police cars zoomed through the side streets at high rates of speed with lights flashing and sirens on full blast trying to disperse the crowd. It was an incredibly tense and scary few minutes.
When people began to return to the street after a few moments I took a few photos of bystanders watching the car burn. Fire trucks were now responding to the fire.
I stood up from behind the Suburban and when I raised my camera, a man from across the street saw me and shouted “Get your white a** out of here! You better not let me f****** catch you!” I stood up, arms raised saying “It’s cool man I’m leaving don’t worry about it,” and began walking away as he quickened his pace towards me. The friendly and caring people around me looked at me with fear in their eyes for me and said “He’s heated man you gotta go! Run man run!” As I turned around I saw he had begun charging at me, dozens of others joining him from every side. I was now running at full speed and realized I was in utter danger. I estimate the mob was around 20-25 people. I dropped my heavy cameras on the ground and sprinted full speed south toward Burleigh shouting “Help! Help!”
As I rounded the corner towards St. Joseph’s Hospital, I saw out of the corner of my eye Aaron being tackled to the ground by a group of people. I saw arms swinging down on him, hurting him. My adrenaline levels spiked even higher as I ran six blocks towards the hospital. I called my dad and he picked me up. I then called my editor, Sherman Williams, explaining to him what just happened. I also got a call from Aaron who said he was able to retrieve the cameras from the ground where I put them. The mob had mistaken Aaron for me, and after a few punches realized it was not me and left him alone. Jacob, Aaron and I rendezvoused back at the newsroom where we began to feverishly push out content.
Words can not describe how happy, relieved, and overjoyed I was to see Jacob and Aaron in front of me relatively unscathed. Aaron seriously took one for the team and without his courage we would not have these photos. I owe him one – BIG TIME. Everything could have gone down much worse and I thank God for watching over all of us.
I did not sleep very much for the remainder of the evening. I was glued to the television watching livestream news coverage of protestors setting businesses on fire and looting stores. I also gave a brief interview with Good Morning America and another news outlet about my experience.
The funny thing is – my internship ended on Friday, so I didn’t even need to go to the riot.