As we see millions march for and stand in solidarity with Black lives around the world, with COVID-19 stay-at-home orders still in place, I question how much this moment will change the policing of our bodies. I can’t help but think about my own Black trans body. A body who has witnessed and felt more harm than good. A body that knows violence all too well.
Protesters barricade the entrance into Fayetteville St. with patio furniture. Saturday, May 30, 2020.
My body feels like it’s under attack wherever I go. I generally do not feel safe when I’m out and about. I grew up walking with my head down, trying to avoid conflict with anyone I walked past because the way I was treated often made me feel like my very existence was a problem. The first time I felt complete comfort in picking my head up and gazing forward was when I took my first photography class in 2012. The camera has been my shield and my way of communicating my truest feelings. What I’ve learned since picking up a camera is that mainstream media controls our image to the masses and I want to play a role in making sure we are properly represented.
Art is my tool for change. I’m documenting things as I see them—beautiful and harmful. My role as an artist is to show life as it is and present it in a way that most are refusing to see or aren’t used to receiving. The inspiration, the celebration, the confusion, the complicatedness, the care and lack thereof, the commitment, and the resiliency. Although I show up with my camera, it is often down on my side as my Cancerian self makes sure those around me are taken care of; much like the protest in Raleigh on Saturday, May 30.
Police officers heavily armed at a peaceful protest. Saturday, May 30, 2020.
Roughly two hours into a peaceful protest gathered to collectively mourn the most recent lives lost, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbrey, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and numerous lives taken here by the Raleigh Police Department, law enforcement began deploying teargas—and continued to do so all night long. After I was tear gassed the first time, I joined in to make sure those that couldn’t see and couldn’t breathe got the help they needed. We ran from one end of downtown to the other for hours, refusing to get out of the streets until our bodies couldn’t take it anymore.
Activist Kerwin Pittman co-leading the march downtown Raleigh. Saturday, May 30, 2020.
I moved to Raleigh, North Carolina just a couple of weeks before my 14th birthday. I left last year because I never felt like I belonged. I didn’t have the same supportive community like I have in Durham now. The Raleigh I see today looks completely different, except for the ways Black people are treated. This city doesn’t care about Black lives. As a Black queer person, I’ve never felt safe when I walk around town here, and I know that sentiment is shared with so many others.
Gloria Mayo addresses the crowd to speak on the killing of her son, Keith Collins, by the Raleigh Police Department. Saturday, May 30, 2020.
A city increasingly gentrified, I can’t help but take notice of the rise of unaffordable apartments being built, houses selling for more than half a million dollars, and the revitalization of Moore Square, a part of downtown once called “Black Main Street” and currently a large gathering space for people who experience homelessness. I often wonder, where do all the people that have been pushed out of the center of the city go? How are they being treated when we are asleep at night?
Two protesters listening and expressing their shared pain and anger after many chose to hug and take a knee with police officers. Tuesday, June 2, 2020.
Raleigh has made the list of great places to live, but who is it a great place for? It is implied that if you do not hold a certain level of class, aren’t white, or don’t perform whiteness, you do not belong here. There are so many people being pushed out and bought out of their homes by the very people who have no say at all on how this land is managed. It’s hard to believe that the people who are making decisions for the people of Raleigh have Black people’s best interest at heart.
Parking deck view of standoff between protesters and officers. Saturday, May 30, 2020.
Raleigh needs to see change immediately. Police do not protect people. They damn sure do not protect Black people. Their presence alone is a symbol of violence. Someone is always going to be in harm's way when law enforcement is involved. It’s always been important to me, but being on the frontlines has really pushed me to find out what it undoubtedly means to put myself out there and fight for something my people have been fighting for for a long time.
Protesters preventing an altercation amongst one another from having a difference in approach. Tuesday, June 2, 2020.
There are times it feels hopeless. Even when I'm out there with my camera, I feel hopeless and helpless. That’s not going to stop me from showing up though. We must all find our role and commit to being a part of the change we desperately need.