Hundreds of protesters took to the streets of New York City and other areas across the US after a Staten Island grand jury decided on December 3 not to indict police officer Daniel Pantaleo for his use of a chokehold that led to the death of Eric Garner. Barely a week after a grand jury's decision regarding Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, the ruling has sparked a wave of demonstrations and discourse revolving around police brutality, race, and justice in contemporary American society.
Captured from December 4 to December 5 at Foley Square and Times Square by a photographer known only as Shootspitter for Documenting NYC, Project Nightshot, this eye-opening collection of black-and-white images documents the pain, anger, passion, and solidarity of many of the protesters in NYC. Wielding signs with phrases such as “Black Lives Matter” and “I Can't Breathe” (in reference to Garner's last words), masses of people are pictured marching through darkness and rain against the glittering backdrop of downtown Manhattan. Poignant and charged with emotion, the striking photos paint a compelling picture of recent events in the US.
Update: We had the opportunity to ask Shootspitter a few questions about his experience. Be sure to read that exclusive interview, below.
What was the energy of the crowd like when you were photographing the protests on Dec. 4 and Dec. 5?
December 4th was the second night after the announcement of the non-indictment in Eric Garner's case. I arrived at Foley Square at 4pm and although I was there an hour and a half before the scheduled meet-up time, there were already several activists/protestors setting up shop, NYPD officers adjusting the barricades and milling about, and lines of media trucks waiting for the action to commence. It was cold but I was bundled up enough to take a quick nap on a bench. At 5:30pm, I was awoken by some chanting, got up, and found a vantage spot in the middle of the action. Half an hour later, the crowd had completely encircled the fountain. By 6:30pm, the energy was electric and the crowd had become so big that the mic checks, even with the aid of a bullhorn, weren't reaching the protestors at the peripheries of the crowd. It was a noticeably diverse group of people in terms of age, ethnicity, style, demeanor, and zeal. Different chants started to break out, carefully worded signs bobbing above heads, people straining to hear and be heard, anxiety and emotion building, and a bevy of professional cameras and mobile phones documenting the escalating tension for the world to witness.
December 5th was a rainy night. I went to Times Square, only to find the usual tourists and the empty preemptive police barricades surrounding the recruiting center. I hopped back on the train to Union Square, only to find a calm yet bustling holiday market and Don Lemon checking his phone for updates before going on air. I went back underground and jumped on the 4 train to Grand Central, only to find a main concourse completely devoid of protestors. Twitter informed me that the meeting point would be Columbus Circle, so I went there next, but the protestors had already started marching, some of them staging a die-in at the Apple store on the other side of Central Park. I saw some tweets about Herald Square so I jumped on the train to Macy's, where I finally caught up with a group of protestors blocking the always busy intersection of 34th and 7th Ave, chanting noisily in the rain with police surrounding the intersection and keeping the traffic at bay. After a few moments, the crowd headed up 7th Ave, in between the stopped cars. A large group of police officers walked behind and among the protestors, controlling traffic with aplomb, perhaps partly in solidarity with the underlying cause or maybe just because those were the strict orders for the night. Several taxi, truck, bus drivers and regular commuters honked their horns, rolled their windows, snapped some shots, and voiced their support. Other drivers looked perplexed or annoyed as the protestors carried on, chanting loudly as the group snaked its way through the traffic, eventually making its way towards Times Square where the protestors sat down in the middle of one of America's busiest and most iconic intersections to shut it down, making it known to the world 11 times, in breathless unison, that they couldn't breathe.
Is there a specific episode or image from the protests that has stayed in your mind?
There are countless images from both nights that have stayed with me, not only the actual photographs from the two sets plus the many that didn't make the final cut, but also from the mental images that I continued to process in my mind's eye while my camera was at my side. Some of those include the old Jewish man who stood behind the barricades hurling passionate invectives at the officers for being cowards, his voice eventually cracking under the strain; the many children, especially on Dec 4th, who joined their parents with their little hands raised; and the exchanges of eye contact with strangers that hinted to some sense of shared humanity and purpose, however ephemeral it might be. But aside from the visual images, I can still hear the chants and feel the emotional reverberations of that beautiful song I no longer remember the words to, the sensual juxtaposition of the cold air and rain with the heat of the protestors' earnest actions, and that vague yet powerful feeling of being a small part of a larger swarm, that indelible experience of being physically and psychically present, something that a photograph, unfortunately, can only barely begin to capture.
Can you tell us a little more about Project Nightshot?
I started Project Nightshot at the beginning of this year, 2014, with the simple objective of Documenting NYC every single night through photography and words, though there are thoughts to possibly incorporate music, video, and other forms of artistic/creative/documentary expression as well. There is no particular style or any hard constraints. I'm curious, openminded, and experimental. Sometimes I have something in particular I'm looking to document or someone I want to creatively collaborate with, but on most nights I just take public transportation or walk and explore the city by myself, living, breathing, experiencing, and hoping to eventually capture something that might be worth sharing.
Thanks so much for the interview, Shootspitter!