*note: This comes to us from Olga Enger, a Newport based freelance journalist who was in Minnesota covering the riots after the police murdered George Floyd
by Olga Enger
Today my sister and I decided to bear witness to the anger rising out of Minneapolis after the murder of George Floyd. I went as a photographer, reporter, not to take sides, protest or pass judgement. In fact, I wasn’t sure how creating a war could stop hatred and racism.
I wondered how safe it was for two white women to enter the belly of a race riot. All too soon, we learned it wasn’t safe. But, the rioters were not the enemy. There was no main stream media on the ground. There were very few white people.
While photographing the riots on the sidelines, a Saint Paul Police Department officer decided not to throw a tear gas bomb into the crowd, to disperse. Instead, he turned around and threw it at my sister and I. It landed at my sister’s foot. My eyes and face felt as someone threw flames into my face, and I was desperately gasping for air. I wondered if with my asthma, I would recover my breath.
I’ve documented events my entire adult life, and never before did I feel an officer would hurt me, just for telling the story. I never felt my camera was a weapon. Hatred and racism isn’t increasing, we are just doing a better job of documenting it. And this cop wasn’t happy about it.
I tried to open my eyes, hoping to see an ambulance, but what was I thinking? There was no help. This wasn’t like the other protests I have photographed, where white people gather to speak against a politician or policy. I gasped for breath, and heard my sister crying out in pain. Then, I heard a voice telling me to open my eyes, and a woman poured milk over my face, which soothed the burning.
My sister and I were shaken, and our faces still burned, but we decided to stay. Why was that cop so eager to get rid of cameras, but not the looting? An hour later, there was more tear gas but this time, it wasn’t directed at us. The crowd scattered, so I was able to sneak in for pictures. Police were shooting flammables directly into parked cars, and into the bushes in front of Target. They are escalating the riots, not preventing them.
But, the real problem is larger than the Twin Cities’ police. What happened to George Floyd wasn’t done by one bad apple. To heal and have peace, we all have a responsibility to look within ourselves. If you are in Minneapolis, bear witness, watch and listen to our communities. Watch your reaction when you see it on the news.
The next time someone walks by you on the street of a different skin color, observe your reaction. If you have ever judged someone by the color of their skin, racism is part of you too. This isn’t solved by police training. This begins at home, with ourselves, and what we teach our children.
We are all part of the problem.