On Sunday, May 31st, at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests, my co-editor-in-chief Keyaira Cameron heard about the Pittsburgh protests and decided to attend as a photographer. Here is a transcript of a conversation we had about the experience of documenting the protest as a photographer and her thoughts about the protest in general. We also added her photos that grabbed our attention throughout the transcript.
Danica: What drew you to the protest initially?
Keyaira: This is the first time I felt the real need to be out protesting because I felt like it was important to support the majority of people that believe that anyone can be a part of change, and I wanted to be a part of that movement. When I look back at this time, I want to know that I did something to make a change and make the world better or that I generated more support for the cause. I really want to make a positive difference in the world.
I believe that right now our society needs to be improved upon and I want to help to change the aspects of our society that hurt minorities and the underprivileged. Through the protest, I wanted to show my support for those fighting for real solutions for these issues.
Danica: What was your mindset going downtown to the protests?
Keyaira: I have been watching all the news about what was going on— both the protests and the riots. I wasn’t interested in the riots, I wanted to go to the protests. I first went down there unsure if anything was going on because I went later in the day, and whenever I got there, all the protests were done. There were still people walking around the streets, but no one was in a big group.
Whenever I pulled through Grant Street, I saw these huge groups of police. They had these large military guns and assault rifles. At that moment I realized how intense it really was. There were probably 200 police officers on one street. There were regular police, and additional enforcement of National Guard, it was easy to notice this wasn’t just a regular police presence.
But, it was very exhilarating to capture what was going on. It was different being there in real life, seeing the police and the guns.
Danica: What was your motivation for going?
Keyaira: My main goal for photography has always been to capture the moment and to tell the story visually, as well as to preserve a deeper awareness about events that happen in our own communities and around the world. So, whenever I went down there I wanted to show what was going on in Pittsburgh realistically. I wanted to take a journalistic approach to the situation, but as far as my motivation it was to tell stories through visual images. Sometimes a photo can tell more than words.
Danica: Do you have any personal ties to the movement?
Keyaira: Being a black person during this time, I found that the best thing I can do to foster positive change is to give my support in any way I can— even by just taking pictures of everything going on. Personally, I also think that we should all be working together and not against each other because we need everyone’s help— including those involved in corrupt systems, to solve these problems of injustice. However, because I have had to be cautious because of the virus, I couldn’t get out to support as much as I wanted to. But, I still wanted to show my support and I found an outlet with photography. Through my pictures, I can show people what is really happening with the protests and help paint the full picture.
Danica: Was being there exhilarating for you?
Keyaira: It was exciting, in a way— almost a rush. When I got down there, I felt like I was witnessing something very important and historical. It really felt like I was a photojournalist whose job was to report on what was happening. I kept getting these chills because it felt like I was a part of history just by being there and that I was on the right side of history because I wasn’t staying at home or remaining silent.
Danica: Was there a particular photo you took that has stuck out to you?
Keyaira: The first photo that stuck out to me was the photo of the officer with the blue lights highlighting his riot shield. The lights were flashing blue and red from the police cars that were situated behind the line of cops, who were holding the street as protestors gathered around, nearing the 8:30 pm curfew. I saw the really intense look in his eyes and the clenched jaw.
The second picture that really captivated my attention was the picture of the policeman helping an intoxicated man after he fell to the ground. The drunk man had been screaming inaudible phrases, and he fell to the ground— dropping both his cane and his jacket. One of the officers helped the man stand up and he also picked up the man’s belongings and returned them. It was just nice to see the cops doing good, especially when there is so much negativity.
Danica: What do you hope people take away from your photographs?
Keyaira: I’d like for people to look at these shots and stop and think for a second about— specifically— the people in the photos. If they look at one of the pictures, maybe they’re questioning if that’s a “good” cop or a “bad” cop. It’s a really interesting thought process because it would be hard to assume that all of the cops in my photographs and in the street are “bad” cops. At the end of the day, cops are people, and just like with every job, there are people that do their job well, and others that don’t. Especially because right now, black people don’t want to be grouped into a stereotype, so I think that same concept should be applied to police officers right now— as they are their own individual people as well.
When I posted the photos, I captioned them that people should be uniting and working together, hoping that they realize that the cops in the photos are also people and that we shouldn’t assume that they are all bad people. I think that working together is the best and only solution. If we stay united, then we can accomplish much more than if we are alone.