Let’s start at the beginning though.
When all of the protests started happening and showing up on the news, I never thought it would come to Fort Wayne. Boy, was I wrong.
Late Friday night I heard that there were people being tear gassed in downtown Fort Wayne. When I heard that, I immediately started pacing around my room debating whether I should go or not.
Should I go down there?
I would get some amazing pictures. I could also get seriously hurt or even arrested, and I didn’t want that.
I spent the majority of Friday night scrolling through Twitter looking at the pictures from Indianapolis Star reporters and photographers in Indianapolis and other photographers I follow from cities across the United States and everywhere looked like a mess.
I turned on Twitter notifications for a few reporters from Fort Wayne to see what was going on. Around 9:30 p.m. on Friday, I decided that I probably should not go downtown, but I planned to go the next day.
Before I went to bed, I gathered my camera equipment, charged all my batteries and got a “go-bag” ready.
I woke up the next morning with a level of excitement that rivals the day I got to photograph my first college football game. I knew Saturday was the day that would either reinforce why I love photojournalism or scare me away.
I had a quick lunch with my family and then raced downtown.
I got to the protest on Saturday and saw police cars lined up in a makeshift barricade around the Allen County Courthouse. There was a SWAT truck and officers with what looked like machine guns standing guard.
I walked around for a couple hours, taking pictures of protesters and the police watching them.
Younger me would have hated being there. There were so many people and it was loud. But present me loved everything about it.
There was so much emotion, passion and love for what they were protesting for which makes for amazing photographs.
Eventually, the crowd moved their way from the sidewalks up to the line of police cars and started chanting directly at the officers. I was already up by the police cars so I got caught in the crowd of people. I got down low and started photographing everybody.
The crowd was so big that it spanned from the line of police cars all the way to the sidewalk by the roads. I moved to the intersection of South Clinton and East Main streets and that’s when things started to heat up.
It started with just a handful of people standing in the intersection as cars drove by, but then gradually became a mess.
The more people that went out in the street, the more lanes they were blocking. Eventually, South Clinton Street, which is normally a four-lane, one-way road, was down to a one-lane road.
I knew that this was when things were going to get bad. I took my pictures, then got away from the action. I walked back to the south side of the green in front of the courthouse and, like everything else, will never forget what I heard.
POP! POP! POP! POP! Then hissing as clouds of smoke rose up from the ground.
I played a lot of video games growing up, especially “Call of Duty,” and the popping I heard sounded like when you shoot a grenade launcher, just without the explosion.
I knew what it was. It was tear gas.
I heard and had seen in other parts of the country the police deploying tear gas to disperse the crowds, but I had never thought I would be in a place where they actually did it.
Thankfully I was not in the mix of everything, but I still felt it. The wind makes it travel fast and it hits you quickly. I didn’t get hit with it like some people did. I watched as a man stumbled from the street to the alley and poured milk into his eyes.
At that moment, Fort Wayne did not seem like a city in Indiana. It seemed like a warzone, not a place where people raise their families, go out to restaurants on the weekends or go to the parks with their kids.
From there, I made my way back onto the sidewalk and saw police in full riot-control gear standing on the opposite sidewalk with polarized face shields so people couldn’t see their eyes. While groups of people crying and coughing ran away from the action, I started moving toward it.
As a photojournalist, I know that no story is worth your safety, but I also know that it is our job to cover what’s going on.
As they say, journalism is the rough-draft of history.
So I spent the rest of my time downtown on Saturday getting every shot I could before it got dark, then decided to head home.
That night I went through the three SD cards I filled up. I got nervous while I was going through my pictures and saved every single one on my hard drive because I didn’t want to lose anything.
On Sunday, I went downtown a lot later.
When I got to the courthouse it looked completely opposite from the day before. There were no police cars around the courthouse, no SWAT vans and actually, no police officers at all.
I was surprised that the police didn’t show any presence after what I saw the day before. The crowd was significantly smaller, which gave me more room to explore. I started to hear, through the crowd, that people were going to march to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Bridge, so I went down there and waited.
Once the crowd got there, I saw five or six police cruisers waiting and I thought, “This is where it gets bad.”
When the majority of the crowd got there, some of the officers got out of their vehicles but didn’t approach the group. I stood back and watched as some protesters started forming a group by the officers, so I went over to see what was going on.
Everybody over in the group was asking officers questions and the officers were giving them honest answers. The protesters and officers had nice, peaceful and civil conversations for a few hours, which is not what I had anticipated or prepared for at all.
The crowd of protesters stayed very calm the entire time I was there. The officers didn’t shy away from any questions, which showed the protesters that they were there for them. They were there for the community.
Overall, the night was so much better than the night prior. I couldn’t believe how the emotions differed from the way it was Saturday. Right before I was about to leave, I saw two officers walk up onto the bridge. They were there for the protesters. They walked right by me, taking pictures with people, shaking hands, hugging people. It was beautiful.
Eventually, more officers did the same and when I left, there were about 10 officers standing with groups of people just talking about everything.
This weekend will stay with me forever. I will not forget anything I saw, heard or felt. I’m glad I went. I made some beautiful pictures and not to toot my own horn, but I feel that I’m a better photographer because of it.
There’s one thing that I’ll specifically remember from this weekend.
I need more SD cards.