From the Journal: 4 June, 2020
You can make a photo say anything. But we need the photo to speak for itself if we want to hear what is truly being said. For there are many words now. So many words we cannot hear. In the world, America, and Nashville neighborhoods. On 4 June 2020 something small happened and the camera found it. So small only a flicker of light revealed it. And when we saw it we stood still and listened. It was a silent thing that spoke above everything and said what we needed to hear. A voice needs context. The dishonesty of photos is how they intentionally leave out context. To hear what the flicker said you must see the Day it unfolded, the Street where it took place, the Cop in the middle of it. And you have to look at the Night that followed. For light comes so gently and night always wants to overtake it.
The crowd gathered. It is the nature of a crowd to gather. In Nashville this crowd gave speeches, some of them good. Some angry. Some misguided. Some mean.
After the speeches, the crowd moved. Demario Maxwell of Nashville passed out free drinks. “I wanted to do something. This is an important moment in history,” he said. One man knelt, Anthony Granda, and a girl from the march gave him a flower.
Amara Hall of Nashville carries a flag and we are not sure at first what she means to say. It so happens we know Amara and we know she is kind. It seems she is saying several things: Our country is in need, our country is worth fighting for. This street, Broadway, has dignity. It fits her if she were to say these things.
Like minds. Amara runs into her friend Reid Cifrino who has had an identical idea. Draped in America they embrace one another on Broadway, America’s iconic “Music City” avenue. The street is empty then it is full then it empties again, like something flowing.
5th & Broadway
Before the street empties, before Night falls, before the brief flicker, there is the police officer, the cop the entire parade of protest turns to address.
They find him on a legendary street corner, 5th and Broadway. Badge #3xxx. He becomes the sole recipient of their protest– literally thousands of people stop the march, fill the intersection, and turn their entire attention on him.
It is a thing of awe when a crowd unites. A great mystery the surrendering of one’s mind to the mind of a crowd.
The crowd is led by those closest to the officer. They say things to him: “You are one of us. You are a brother. Join us. Show your solidarity.” They implore him. They scold him. They beg him. They criticize him.
Confession: I have been in crowds around the world, enormous, frightened, angry, dangerous crowds. But I have never seen a crowd speak to one man. I watched and wondered how the officer could handle this. His fellow officers felt the weight of the protest against him personally and they reached out hands to touch his shoulder to ask, are you ok?
A chant begins: “Take a knee.” It is fair at first but then it grows angry. A kneeling man yells, “Why won’t you make eye contact with us? Why do you stand and stare over us? Take a knee! KNEEL!”
The man leading the protest does not have a megaphone and he is kneeling on a street corner so we are certain his voice cannot be heard across the thousands of people behind and around them, yet as he leads the thousands in the chant to “KNEEL!” he gives a command for everyone to take a knee and before even a voice can relay his command the crowd bows in a wave. Again, a thing I have never witnessed anywhere in the world. And the officer is left standing and the crowd is yelling.
A chant begins:
“Take a knee.”
We are waiting for something to happen, fearing it. It is too much. There are so many words and yet no one can listen. There is so much pain–this is true, the pain is true. And yet the words are not words of pain but words of conquest. “We will win!” they chant. “KNEEL!” It is interesting what light can do to help us speak and see. The Clouds cover some things, light comes through in parcels. The light bounces from the glass of the Bridgestone Arena. The Ryman creates a backdrop and shadow. The combination falls on one girl, Cameron Smith, 19, of Franklin, Tennessee. She has just graduated high school this morning and come straightaway to the march. Cameron is crying. One tear coming down her cheek. Forgive us this, but I am going to be dramatic. Because it was dramatic. I stared at her through the lens. She was not yelling, she was not speaking. She was with the crowd but not with them. She was inside the crowd and somehow as separated from them as the police officer in front of her. I intuitively felt something and knew the origin of her tear without even asking. Her tear was shed not for the protest but for everyone. Her tear was the true protest because it was not a protest for or against anything except the pain itself. I felt her tear was the most innocent and profound protest a person could make–it was the essence of every protest ever uttered. Our camera did not leave her for a very long time and she remained the same. More tears came. And I felt I was not just looking at a girl. I felt even in the crowd there was a desire to follow her, to let go of the chants and to be unified not in protest but in shared desire for healing. I wrote in my journal that night: “I wonder if this is unique in a city like Nashville? People were angry and protesting but somehow there was a kind desire in the crowd. Despite some, it seemed the personality of Nashville came through today and it was a good personality, like a person you can trust.”