A Single Photo From Baton Rouge That's Hard to Forget
It is a remarkable picture. A single woman stands in the roadway, feet firmly planted. She poses no obvious threat. She is there to protest the excessive force which Baton Rouge police allegedly deploy against the city’s black citizens. She stands in front of police headquarters, on Saturday. And she is being arrested by officers who look better prepared for a war than a peaceful protest.
There are images that are impossible to forget, searing themselves into our collective consciousness. One man staring down a column of tanks in Tiananmen Square. A high school student attacked by police dogs in Birmingham, Alabama. This is such a photo.
Once seen, it cannot be unseen.
The Baton Rouge police department lists the virtues it seeks to instill in its officers. Protection. Obligation. Leadership. Integrity. Courage. Excellence. I wonder what these officers thought about as they hauled her away. (Update: As explained below, there were multiple agencies on the scene; the officers in the picture were apparently Louisiana State Police.)
We’re working to gather details about the moment it captures, to find her name. If you were there, or know her, please write to us: firstname.lastname@example.org. This story will be updated as we learn more. (Update: Her name is reportedly Ieshia Evans; more details in the second update below.)
Update: Thanks to the many readers who’ve written in to share what they know. Several have provided us with a name that we’re working to confirm.
I also spoke with Jonathan Bachman, the New Orleans-based freelance photographer who snapped the photo for Reuters. He arrived in Baton Rouge on Thursday, and returned again on Saturday. I asked him to describe what he’d seen:
A group of demonstrators had formed a blockade—blocked Airline Highway, which runs in front of Baton Rouge Police headquarters. So law enforcement came out, consisting of several departments within Louisiana … they had come out in riot gear to clear the protestors off to the side of the road. In that attempt, they arrested three to four people as some of the demonstrators confronted the line that the police had created, but for the most part they were able to move everyone off to the side of the road.
I had my attention on people confronting the police on the side of the road … I had turned to look over my right shoulder, I think that I had heard this women say something about she was going to be arrested, and I saw this woman, and she was standing in the first lane in that road.
It happened quickly, but I could tell that she wasn’t going to move, and it seemed like she was making her stand. To me it seemed like: You’re going to have to come and get me. And I just thought it seemed like this was a good place to get in position and make an image, just because she was there in her dress and you have two police officers in full riot gear.
It wasn’t very violent. She didn’t say anything. She didn’t resist, and the police didn’t drag her off.
It’s representative of the peaceful demonstrations that have been going on down here. I understand that officers have been hurt in other cities, but down here it’s remained peaceful.
I’ve also heard from a number of readers, upset at the invocation of what they regard as fundamentally dissimilar events. My aim was not to equate their moral weight, but to point to other iconic images of protest. Many were equally upset that I had not spelled out that the protestor was violating the law by obstructing a highway and refusing to comply with instructions to move to the side of the road. And some felt that, after Dallas, the deployment of tactical units was not only justified, but prudent. I’ll leave readers to draw their own conclusions about that.
But I do want to note two other things. At the time of this arrest, which came relatively early in that day’s protest, both the demonstrators and the officers had avoided physical confrontation. (As Bachman notes, there were multiple law-enforcement agencies on the scene on Saturday; the ones making this arrest were apparently from the Louisiana State Police.) There were, Bachman said, some protestors who offered harsh words. But at the time of the arrest, the protest itself had stayed peaceful.
But if it started entirely peaceful, it did not stay that way through the night. Here’s a statement issued by the Baton Rouge Police Department:
The protest last night at Baton Rouge Police Headquarters organized by individuals from outside our Baton Rouge community resulted in 102 arrests. In addition to the arrests, 3 rifles, 3 shotguns and 2 pistols were confiscated. A Baton Rouge Police Officer had several of his teeth knocked out as a projectile was thrown from the protest.
It appears the protest at Baton Rouge Police Headquarters have become more violent as out of town protesters are arriving. Any protest which becomes violent will be immediately dispersed.
Thanks to all who wrote—particular those who wrote to voice their vehement objections. I’ll update this post again as I learn more.
Several media outlets, led by the Daily Mail, are now reporting that the woman in the photograph is Ieshia Evans. That name also appears on the list of the 102 protestors arrested on Saturday, charged with obstructing a highway. A social-media profile apparently associated with Evans included an update posted last night:
I just need you people to know. I appreciate the well wishes and love, but this is the work of God. I am a vessel! Glory to the most high! I'm glad I'm alive and safe. And that there were no casualties that I have witnessed first hand.
The published accounts offered conflicting personal details; a status update on the social-media account said of the Daily Mail’s reporting, “This story has holes.” A few hours later, another update read:
To all of my friends and acquaintances please don't do any interviews about me. If they want my story, I am here. I would like the opportunity to represent myself! Thank you. Peace, love, blk power! #blacklivesmatter
Rather than relay unconfirmed, and potentially unreliable, details published elsewhere, I’ll update this again if I’m able to speak directly with Evans and confirm her identity, or if other outlets are able to offer her own account, in her own words.
Final Update: On Tuesday, Evans issued a statement through the group with which she’d traveled to Baton Rouge, Young Minds Can. It reads:
When the police pushed everyone off the street, I felt like they were pushing us to the side to silence our voices and diminish our presence. They were once again leveraging their strength to leave us powerless. As Africans in America we're tired of protesting that our lives matter, it's time we stop begging for justice and take a stance for our people. It's time for us to be fearless and take our power back.