Editor's note: This column has been corrected with regard to the Minnesota National Guard's role during Minneapolis protests. Law enforcement such as state troopers did use crowd control tactics such as tear gas, but the Minnesota National Guard did not specifically conduct these acts. According to a statement from the Minnesota National Guard — which was activated for civil unrest support in Minneapolis, St. Paul and surrounding communities — Guard members were not issued nor did they use non-lethal rounds of any kind.
MINNEAPOLIS — It’s easy to look at an image, but not so easy to capture one.
Two hours after curfew at around 10 p.m. Saturday, May 30, in Minneapolis, I sat in my beat-up, black Volkswagen Jetta at a complete loss.
My skin was sticky from sweat and residue. Adrenaline left my heart still pounding in my chest, even though I was safe inside the comfort of my car.
My media partner, Macklin Caruso, and I had just left the scene of the Fifth Precinct Police Station in Minneapolis where hundreds of protesters gathered to show solidarity with George Floyd, a black man who died while in the custody of Minneapolis Police Department officers on Memorial Day, May 25. The protesters were there to shed light on police brutality and the black lives lost throughout history in violent police encounters. We were there as journalists documenting the history unfolding before our eyes.
Photo Gallery: Minneapolis Protests — May 30 and 31, 2020
Just 30 minutes past 8 p.m., law enforcement including state troopers started using crowd dispersion tactics, such as tear gas and other uses of force. The previous Thursday night on May 28, rioters took over the Minneapolis Police Department’s Third Precinct building. Concerns that the same thing would happen to the Fifth Precinct led to a greater use of force by authorities.
After the first tear gas incident and fearful of what might happen next, we headed out.
We were staying in St. Paul, but law enforcement had shut down all the bridges over the Mississippi River connecting the two cities, and were closely patrolling any roads.
We were stuck, and I was in a complete panic. I still had to submit the photos I had taken for Forum News Service, but my laptop battery had died.
“If we can’t drive, I’m just going to run to the apartment,” I told Caruso.
“No way,” he said. “You can’t run past curfew through roads guarded with police. They won’t know why you’re running toward them. They’ll shoot (rubber bullets).”
Fortunately, I found Rudy and Elvi Brynolfson, who were standing outside their South Minneapolis home, who were willing to help a stranger out. They let me send using an electrical outlet from their porch to power up my computer and filed photos by the deadline.
The good grace of benevolent strangers, like Rudy and Elvi, got us through the weekend. Random people on the street passing out food and water, providing tear gas relief, holding my hand when I couldn’t see through a cloud of gas, and offering us places to stay.
There was a strong undertone of healing and collectivism, but be clear: I never, ever want to capture images like this again. I don’t enjoy this. No one does.
I am a white woman and my perspective is riddled with privilege. I also work for a news organization that would support me or be held liable if something happened to me. Many protesters and members of the public do not have this. They are out there risking their lives for the sake of a cause. Namely, justice for George Floyd.
This was not an easy event to document. Being there for only two days, I was constantly pulled in so many directions. As a photojournalist, it’s my duty to accurately capture the whole story. But, what is the whole story? How can you possibly relay the centuries of police brutality, racism and generational trauma in a single photo? It’s an impossible feat.
The impact of a photograph is not something I take lightly. These images can change someone’s life for better or for worse. Each photograph I tried to capture with care and intention.
Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics lists “minimize harm” as one of the foundations of ethical journalism. Earlier that day at the Fifth Precinct Police Station, one of the protesters leading the crowd shouted through a megaphone that the press is “our second line of defense” and invited members of the media to come closer.
Ericia Dischino tweet
Was that what I was doing? Would my images potentially cost someone their life? One thing I do know is that these events needed to be documented. The nuances, complexities and in-between moments of humanity are what I sought out.
As humans, we are so quick to pick sides and tell ourselves the story we believe to be true. But, it’s more than that. There are so many gray areas. It's our duty, as journalists, to relay that gray area as best we can.
Both the protesters and law enforcement were trying to do their jobs as citizens and officials. There are people behind the “Black Lives Matter” signs. There are people behind the bulletproof vests and military gear.
We are trying to survive in systems that are no longer working for all of us and through the coronavirus pandemic that leaves us stagnant with fear.
George Floyd, I’m sorry. I’m sorry you didn’t pass away of old age in the comfort of your own home. I’m sorry you didn’t get to see your daughter grow up.
But, frankly being “sorry” isn’t enough. There is so much turmoil, destruction and collective trauma occurring right now across Minnesota and the country.
We only have one option: to come out of this stronger than before.
Erica Dischino is a photojournalist for the West Central Tribune and Forum News Service. She is a native of New Jersey and a graduate of Ithaca College in New York.
Video from Minneapolis Protests — May 30 and 31, 2020