Article and Photography by Matt Hubbard | Owl Staff
May 30th, 2020. Eight hours and ten miles worth of peaceful protest was enough to draw absolutely zero news coverage. No reporters, no cameras, and no news vans. Just the occasional news helicopter that would do a quick sweep. The only coverage came from Instagram live videos and freelance photojournalists.
At the end of the ten miles, the leaders of the protest lead the 200+ participants back to Townhall where they would do their final speeches and everyone would then have the chance to leave or stay.
About half way through the trip back to the Townhall, the leaders called for absolute silence amongst the 200+ participants. The unity and cohesion of this group was the strongest I had ever seen.
Everyone went silent for about 30 seconds. The only sound in the air was a distant roar from what seemed to be a huge crowd coming closer and closer to us. After the 30 seconds were over, the group began to move again.
We were about two blocks away from City Hall when we looked down an alleyway to see a bigger, louder, and crazier group running to join us.
The crowd that was once 200+ turned to roughly 500+ with double the energy it originally had. The leaders moved the crowd through the empty city streets at the speed of a light jog.
My adrenaline was high and my camera never left my eye as I documented the unmatchable energy of the protestors.
Upon reaching Townhall, the police had a small fence barricade between the crowd and the building. Roughly 20 cops lined the perimeter with nothing more than a bulletproof vest.
As the night went on, tensions grew higher.
By 9:30 p.m, the crowd began to get louder. It was obvious the protest was going to take a turn, and still not a single news crew was on the scene covering what was unfolding.
Shaking barricades, screaming protesters, and then water bottles. One bottle flies above the crowd and strikes the windshield of a police car. Then three more water bottles rain down, and next thing I know, glass.
The cops scatter and run for cover as a barrage of glass bottles, water bottles, and rocks are thrown towards them. The crowd is now out of control.
The police return only moments after in riot gear. The crowd joins in unity chanting “we want war” over, and over, and over again.
The police form into the Escalon formation and move to push the crowd back. Riot officers then deployed gas on the crowd to get them to disperse.
As I ran up the block choking for air, I noticed not only one, but two news crews frantically running to the scene with smiles on their face.
I took a sip of water and let my eyes clear up and then I returned to the crowd to not only see a bigger police presence, but the news crews being swarmed by angry protesters.
When I witnessed some of my favorite Baltimore reporters being met with such hostility, my initial instinct was to run over and try to defuse the situation. The lead cameraman for the crew was a man I became relatively close with the previous Friday as we talked about the industry of journalism and covered an event that evening. This was a very tough call for me to make given that I viewed both parties as my friends.
After further evaluation of how high the tensions were between the two parties, I decided it was in my best interest to move closer and just listen rather than intervene.
“Where were you guys when we were protesting peacefully? Exactly. Leave!” One of the protesters shouted.
At this point I understood that it was in my best interest to simply walk away. My dedication to documenting this group from an unbiased point of view was worth more to me then the chances of me being caught in the line of fire and being asked to leave along with the reporters.
The protestors made sure a lane was cleared for the reporters to leave as they escorted them to their van.
As I watched the news crews leave with their heads down, I felt a genuine wave of guilt in my chest that made it to where all I could do was walk until I forgot about it.
An abrupt “get back!” followed by a canister of tear gas was all it took for me to regain my focus on my primary goal at hand and that was making sure my unity and cohesion as a journalist with this group was secure and that I was trusted.
I made my way over to the leaders of the protest where I was thanked for being with the group throughout the whole day and was encouraged to stay and document the truth. Of course this was a huge relief and I took full advantage of it.
About an hour had passed and the group as well as police started to settle down to where I had the opportunity to clear my head and actually think about what happened.
On the surface, It looks like aggressive protesters attacked news crew’s amidst the “second wave of Baltimore riots” but this was not by any means the case.
Baltimore activists are making it clear that they are more than just a paycheck to the media; they are a voice.
In my personal experience with working and covering these groups, I have found inspiration. To spend the entire day with these people and get to truly understand who they are as both activists as well as people was what I feel made my coverage of the George Floyd protests stand out.
But why is that? Because protestors in Baltimore never lose sight of unity.
The hostility towards the media within these protests is not because of the fear of the truth, but because the media has not treated these groups as anything more than a paycheck. The media did not take the time to get to know these strong, intelligent people. The media did not spare eight hours to join this group in a ten mile protest across Baltimore. The media only showed up when the police deployed tear gas in a peaceful protest.
So what did the coverage of this event entail for a news team? “Protesters beat and rob news crew out front of townhall.” Why is that? Because the same way the media only showed up to expose the violent side of the protest was the same way the protesters exposed them for their ignorance of thinking they knew exactly what this group was all about.
All of this can be avoided if the media treats stories as actual stories and covers them from a personal level. A level where they work to gain the support and trust of every individual in the crowd to where a first name basis is not only encouraged, but expected.
Once we establish unity between the people and the media is when society can turn the tide and build trust to take on a greater good.