I want to start this blog post by thanking all of my friends, family, co-workers and everyone else for their support and concern for me. It means a lot.
Saturday evening I received a text message from my photo editor saying riot police were being dispatched in response to heated confrontations between angry protestors and Milwaukee Police on Sherman Blvd. and Burleigh St. in Milwaukee. I told my editor I was headed out to see what was happening.
I grew up in Milwaukee and am interning at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. I lived at home this summer to help save money for school in the fall. My dad insisted on being my driver so he drove us three minutes down the road to the scene.
Several smaller, violent protests have rattled this area over the summer, most of those incidents involving only a couple dozen people. Last night, however, we arrived to the intersection to see a car on Sherman and Auer St. beginning to go up in flames – not at all what I was expecting. I jumped out of the car, cameras slung around both shoulders. A few short steps onto the street and I 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 counted around 10 gunshots fired in quick succession into the air.
I ran for cover behind a large Chevy Suburban on the other side of the street 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 took photos 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 towards 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, and explained to him what just happened, out of breath, terror in my voice.
I got a call from Aaron who said he was able to retrieve the cameras from the ground where I dropped 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 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 paced throughout the house, hands pulling my hair, knees shaking, my stomach in knots. This was the first time I ever truly felt that my life was in danger. How is this happening? Why? How can we solve this? These questions ran through my mind as I went to sleep, and now blind my vision while I attempt to write this.
The funny thing is – my internship ended on Friday, so I didn’t even need to go to the riot.