Tension was slowly building in Ferguson, weeks before the grand jury’s decision in the case of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager who was fatally shot in August by a white police officer, Darren Wilson.
The protests started off peacefully, however, there were several arrests each night outside the Ferguson Police Department.
Despite pouring rain, protesters held an enthusiastic and peaceful rally the night before the grand jury’s decision was announced. A positive vibe filled the air, as protesters were hopeful that the white officer would be indicted the next morning. They chanted, “I believe that we will win.”
The slogans were catchy and remained with me for many days to follow. One of them was “I got my hands on my head, please don’t shoot me dead.”
The evening of Nov. 24, protesters were waiting outside the Ferguson Police Department and were listening to the radio on their mobile phones and cars, waiting for the verdict to be announced. Many protesters were seen with gas masks, as riots were expected.
The prosecutor announced the verdict not to indict officer Darren Wilson at about 9 p.m. Protesters were seen in tears and defeat. Within 45 minutes, the feeling of defeat spread among the crowd, and revenge was seen in the form of violence.
The protesters moved toward two unattended police vehicles parked near the Ferguson Police Department, threw bricks at them, tried to flip them and eventually set fire to them. Plenty of gunshots were heard.
The first round of tear gas filled the air shortly after the riots began. Meanwhile, within the radius of a mile, storefronts were vandalized, the windows shattered and a trash bin set on fire.
In other parts of the city, stores were being looted and buildings set ablaze. There were heavy gunshots, and the looters did not want to be photographed.
After the morning of violence and unrest, on Nov. 25 Gov. Jay Nixon of Missouri increased the number of National Guard troops. In a 24-hour period, 14 people were injured alongside 61 arrests.
The protesters again flipped a police vehicle Tuesday night, outside City Hall in Ferguson, however, the police instantly took over the street asking demonstrators to remain out of the street or they would be subject to arrest.
The situation was better than the night before as military Humvees and national guards filled the streets, however, I saw genuine protesters in tears saying,” We have been dealing with this all our lives.” Similar protesters and their genuine emotions were lost amid the violence.
In the days to follow, protests started to take place all across the U.S. A few weeks after the decision another grand jury decided not to indict a white police officer in the chokehold death of Eric Garner, which sparked more retaliation across the country.
I was able to cover several protests in Chicago, through which I was able to show the reaction.
There were several challenges while I took photos and filmed video of the events in Ferguson; the biggest was safety. Apart from experiencing tear gas the gunshots constantly surrounded me and other photographers.
The night of the grand jury past midnight a group of several photographers decided to stick together while we covered the buildings that were set on fire.
Another challenge was to shoot in low-light situations. The entire footage is shot with a 28 mm.
The fear of my gear getting robbed was another challenge and many photographers lost their gear to looters on gunpoint amid the chaos. The 28 mm worked in a situation like this since I did not have a long lens attached, which drew less attention. I also hid the camera under my jacket in certain situations.
I was also constantly using the built-in Wi-Fi on my camera to transfer the photos to my phone and transmitting them through Instagram using #Ferguson, which I later realized was also a good idea in case my gear was stolen.
Several established photographers inspired me and each night when I looked at their photos in the same places, I compared them with mine, and it motivated me to do better.