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Gallery > Tom J (Seattle) > Protest, Riot and Police Photography

Tom J (Seattle)

Hi! My name is Tom Jenner and I'm from Seattle, Washington, USA. I got into activism photography after I was arrested in the 1999 Seattle WTO riots. I've noticed that what happens in the streets and what's reported in the mainstream media is often quite different. A lot of my work ends up going to National Lawyers Guild members and to private civil rights lawyers. This is just a few shots out of many thousands. This presentation shall be subject to continuous editing to include taking some pictures down and putting others ones up.

Protest, Riot and Police Photography

Pepper spray shot Seattle LEIU riot 2002
I'm off to the side of the police line were it's much safer and offers these sort of shots. Although you can get great shots in the middle, all the "in your face" action combined with the pepper spray makes it difficult to hold a camera still (I've tried). This is Tri-X at 1600 with a 50mm f1:8 lens.
A guy gets punched LEIU Seattle 2002
Although there was a permit for people to be in the street at the LEIU, the police were very assertive at removing people. This shot was shortly after a small riot.
Cops start the big push LEIU Seattle 2002
This is the start of a big push by the cops. There is a car seperating me from the small riot so I'm quite safe taking a shot like this.
watching over protestors
Don't forget to look up when you're in the street or you'll miss some interesting pictures. You'll also often find cops with video cameras.
A snatch squad in action
Watch out for snatch squads! This guy was dragged over the railing in the foreground. It's rare for a snatch squad go after a photographer (in my experience, it's the lone cop that goes for the camera but even that is rare.) Being middle aged and dressing conservative will help from being harassed.
cop with CAR-16
If you look down side streets away from a main group you'll sometimes find cops walking around with assault rifles. I like to go for a walk about outside a main protest area to see what I can find. More likely than not, there are many more cops in an area than people realize at a political protest.
funny riot cop shot
This riot cop kept screaming for people to disperse but no one would listen to him. This is about two seconds after he pushed me back (I had a right to be there). A riot cop will almost never make an arrest when he/she is by themself. You should assert yourself but never provoke.
cop with taser
Tasers are a very efficient way to take someone down but someone twitching on the ground in the street and in agony is bad PR. I've only seen tasers actually used away from crowds and media.
cop with multi shot granade launcher
A multi-launch grenade launcher is the fastest way to clear a street. I had one fired at me during the 1999 WTO riots. They work.
being arrested
A guy being arrested in DC.
AP Press being arrested
Think that press badge will keep you from being arrested? This is an AP photographer being hauled away. A mass arrest took place and all the media within a certain area were also put under arrest. I always stay outside of police lines that start forming if I get the feeling that a mass arrest will take place.
videographer right after being hit
This is a videographer after being hit just below her left eye with a club. Right after this shot people got in between the two to keep the confrontation from escalating. The cop knows that he just screwed up.
military police unload truck
This is the military trying to sneak into a building where an IMF conference is being held (due to other events, it's likely the case that I was the only photographer within 3 or 4 blocks). It's legal for the National Gaurd to perform law enforcement duties.
stand off
A stand off like this will create a media feeding frenzy!
commo van with g men
You have the right in America to take a picture of anything you want from a public place (except some defence installations and reasonable expectation of privacy). This is the Secret Service(?) checking me out as I was taking pictures of a communications van. The agent got within ten feet, I nodded to him and then he left me alone. Know your rights as a photographer!
a cop (NYPD) giving me the finger
A very stupid cop (NYPD) giving me the finger. This shows a gross lack of discipline on the cop's part. For large political events it's common to bring in outside help.
big brother watching 2
You must assume that any political protest is being closely monitored. Surveillance was rapant at the 2002 G8 conference in Calgary.
big brother watching 3
Cops down a side street zooming in.
big brother watching 1
Yet more surveillance of protestors.
cops stand around after mass arrest
Cops standing around after a mass arrest. Notice the undercover cop. I never get to close in a shot like this (this is a cropped 200mm 35mm equiv), they might still be in an arresting mood.
Protesting the LEIU
Protesting the 2002 LEIU conference held in the Red Lion Inn in dowtown Seattle. The LEIU (Law Enforcement Intelligence Unit) is a private "co-op" of various police intelligence units. Being "private" there is no public accountability. They work closely with the FBI.
MP unit commander
MP unit commander posing for me. This is the correct and disciplined way for authority figures to react to an activist photographer. Let him/her get the shot then he/she will go away. The military does not like to deal with US citizens in these sort of cases, it's very bad PR if things go wrong (he was a very nice person though).
A few cops actually stood aside so that I could get a nice shot. This is the benefit of acting like a professional and not like a hot headed activist!
woman mp
MP national gaurd unloading from trucks and moving into the IMF conference building. I spent about 10 minutes to get all of the shots I wanted. Due to PR concerns (and probably orders), the last thing this group will do is interfere with me.
group of cops
Cops at a Seattle 2003 anti-war event. The biggest complaint I hear from cops is the boredom and the lack of creativity in some of the chants! They like the over-time pay though.
chant leaders in evening march
Dangerous protestors leading a march!
anarchist soccer game
Although there was no permit for people to be in the street (Calgary G8 2002), the cops allowed things like this to happen and there were no arrests. There would have been lots of pepper spray flying if this were Seattle.... This is a very rational move on the authorities part as arrests and riots tend to get the media attention at a lot of large political/economic conferences instead of the message that the political/economic entity is trying to put out.
Extreme crop of cop pointing a shotgun
This is an extreme crop of Tri-X at 1600. Although the shotgun is loaded with "less lethal" ammunition, close "less lethal" shotgun blasts are quite deadly.
ready to kick butt
I sure wish that the cops would be required to clean up after their horses. That's a slipping hazard!
Cop watches over crowd LEIU Seattle 2002
A cop watching over a crowd. Very Orwellian....
cops with protestors
Sometimes cops over react with their large presence. There was no arrests in this group but this shows a prior restraint on 1st Amendement rights by not allowing people to peacefully protest.
mass arrest
The media (to include corporate and indy) got so hung up on the action that was happening in one area most didn't notice that they were being surrounded by a ring of cops. Everyone in this ring was arrested. You've got to get the shot but always be aware of when you're being ringed in and be sure you don't get caught in the ring. Sometimes a press badge won't get you free. (I accidently had my DiMAGE 7 on iso 800).
SPD does surveillance of protestors
SPD does surveillance on protestors
State patrol doing surveillance of protestors. 2004 National Governers Conerence
Since videotaping protestors is kind of touchy for the SPD to do (given their history), they often have other agencies do it.
SPD Special Deployment Unit doing surveillance on protestors.
This is the SPD Special Deployment Unit. They will shadow a protest while conducting surveillance.
Redmond Police photographer. I've seen him at several Seattle events taking everyones picture.
Police photographer from Redmond, WA. I've seen him at several Seattle events taking pictures of all of the protestors to include a pro labor march put on by WA state public employees.
foreign service officers protesting at the G8
Canadian foreign service officers protesting at the G8 conference.
surveillance van driver
Surveillance van driver at the 2002 G8. Although taking pictures of undercover cops can be a felony in Canada, this officer is clearly identifying himself as a policeman.
surveillance van at the 2002 G8
This is what a surveillance van looks like. It has a microwave video feed system on top.

Thank you for visiting my presentation. Be safe and happy shooting!

Andre Easter , April 10, 2006; 09:27 A.M.

Journalism or Propaganda?

Is this supposed to be journalism or political propaganda? Without your rather biased commentary the photos would stand on there own as objective documentary. But combined with your rambling editorial captions they are reduced to what the Stalinists called Agitprop, short for agitation propaganda. By being part of what you are recording, you diminish any power that these photos have; they take on the aura of staged theater. Are you there to record the events, or are you there to help make the events?

That being said; it is usually a truism that most protest photos suck. Most, not all. Some of these however are rather well done.

Tom J (Seattle) , April 10, 2006; 12:43 P.M.

read the introduction.......

Hey Andre,

If you would care to read the introduction then you would perhaps notice that I mention that I consider myself to be an activist photographer who does a lot of shooting for civil rights entities and that at no point do I call myself a journalist nor do I pretend to be one (though I do carry myself with a professional demeanor, I never wear a media badge due to my bias). It is likely the case that an activist is going to have biases. The point of this presentation is to show what happens at some of these events through the eyes of a civil rights advocate and to give a few tips to other activist photographers. I agree with you that most protest pictures suck, I have thousands to prove it!

Andre Easter , April 10, 2006; 01:03 P.M.

Actually Tom, I think your photography is fine. Just remember what V. I. Lenin called self-proclaimed activists; I believe his term was Useful Idiots. Now it is Progressives.

Please read the rest of my response in the Forum thread. It isn't as bad as you think.

Tom J (Seattle) , April 10, 2006; 03:41 P.M.

Hey Andre,

I think a lot of historical figures who were self proclaimed activists would disagree with Lenin's assertion such as: Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Emma Goldman (early 20th century feminist), Rosa Parks, Ralph Nader. I could go on but I think the point is made.

If I were a brutal dictator like Lenin was and wanted complete control over society then I'd certainly refer to self proclaimed activists who were helpful to my cause as useful idiots. Dictators like that will use the people and then spit them out (or perhaps just have them executed such as Hitler did to the SA leadership).

I prefer the term libertarian or constitutionalist.

Thanks for the compliment on the photos!

John Kelly , April 16, 2006; 01:39 A.M.

fyi it's not illegal for National Guard to do police work in civilian world, it's one of the central mandates of their charter. They are a state-level organization, under control of the governor of the state unless trumped by the president. In this case they were commanded by the governor of Washington.

Tom J (Seattle) , April 16, 2006; 03:50 A.M.

Hey John,

I mentioned that it's legal for the National Gaurd to do law enforcement duties in the presentation.

Thanks for visiting!

Jake McCrann , April 16, 2006; 02:05 P.M.

Re: Andre Easter's derision

Its called gonzo journalism - Hunter S Thompson, assassinated because of his activity to expose the truth of 911 - is honoured with this. The acknowledgement that one is not omnipresent, and that reporting to be somehow not present risks greater perturb than simply embracing your part in what you are reporting. If the camera wasn't there would the image be the same?

Agitprop applies to means through mass-media. The internet is not a mass-media. Here's a new term for you: Posse Comitatus

Jake McCrann

chaka raysor , April 18, 2006; 09:14 P.M.

Modesto Speed

you did a great job. very evenhanded and thoughtfully composed. please produce more.

Run Come Test Us --- Cleveland, Ohio

Tim Bramsen , April 21, 2006; 10:26 P.M.

deep shit...

Wow thats some pretty deep stuff you guys got going there. For all of the philosophers that you espouse, I think you are missing the point (except you Tom...you da man). Wanna read a good book? Read "The Iron Heel by Jack London" (The Call of the Wild guy)he was actually a very prolific socialist. It is a very applicable (probably the most accurate foresight of where we are headed.)story.

That said... I think that your shots are excellent Tom. I believe your hands were probably too full of camera to incite much of that violence (although Im sure you could find a way to do it.) What you did was record what you saw (if from a somewhat biased point of view). Technically the shots are very good and the contentis good too. Consider purposely looking for ways to shoot the same scene from the opposite point of view and getting good shots that show that perspective even if you disagree with it. That will make you even better. All hail Bong Hit Saturday! (wahoo) Bam Bam

Kyle Shortes , August 11, 2006; 10:43 A.M.

Looks like there was mroe fun at your Riot then there was at mine. I really like your shot, they have a bit of power behind them. Stop by my portfolio and check out my Real Life section

Nathan Ross , September 07, 2006; 08:02 P.M.

Always pleased to see these sorts of photos around. At any protest I've been to that's turned violent, it's always been reported as "the protestors became violent" rather than "the police became violent" as was always the case. Well done for the work you're doing with civil rights lawyers, etc.

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