This One Powerful Photo Represents BLM

by Joseph D. Lyons

A click of the shutter later, and the Black Lives Matter movement has its photo. The already-iconic picture taken in Baton Rouge this weekend shows one woman standing alone in a graceful, flowing dress in front of an intimidating line of riot police. Two officers approach her with body armor, helmets, and zip tie handcuffs. She stares straight ahead, head tall, holding only her cell phone as they move to arrest her and remove her from the roadway.

Taken Saturday by Reuters freelance photographer Jonathan Bachman, the image — which has been compared photos of to the protestor staring down tanks in Tiananmen Square in 1989 and the Vietnam War protestor holding a flower out to soldiers — evokes the feelings and emotion of the days of protests following the police killing of Alton Sterling in the Louisiana capital.

The woman in the photo was later identified by the New York Daily News as Ieshia Evans, a 35-year-old New Yorker who traveled simply to join in the protests to ensure a better future for her five-year-old son after being "overcome with emotion" while watching them play out from a distance on TV. She flew to Baton Rouge and joined in the several-day Black Lives Matter protest that has been unfolding there.

Bachman, the photographer, explained to The Atlantic that he saw the shot unfolding. "I could tell that she wasn't going to move, and it seemed like she was making her stand," the said. "To me it seemed like: You're going to have to come and get me." He added that despite the violence being seen in other cities, that wasn't the case with this arrest:

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.

Bachman's view, however, has not been shared by law enforcement in Louisiana; to say that the protests have not been well received there is an understatement. Protestors were targeting the police headquarters in Baton Rouge, blocking a nearby road as part of a peaceful act of civil disobedience. As a result, more than 100 people were arrested Saturday, among them Evans and DeRay Mckesson, one of the best known organizers in the Black Lives Matters movement.

He and Evans were released Sunday. The two were charged with "simple obstruction of a highway of commerce." In an interview with The New York Times, he said that the police were provoking protestors and wanted to scare them:

The police want protesters to be too afraid to protest, which is why they intentionally created a context of conflict, and I'll never be afraid to tell the truth. What we saw in Baton Rouge was a police department that chose to provoke protesters to create, like, a context of conflict they could exploit.

The Baton Rouge police said an officer lost teeth after being hit with a projectile and that eight guns were confiscated. Louisiana law allows for open carry of weapons, and residents can apply for a permit for concealed carry. East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Sid J. Gautreaux III said he would respect peaceful protests, but added, "We're not going to tolerate any violence, we're not going to tolerate any lawlessness, we're not going to tolerate any destruction of property."

Speaking with reporters after being released, Mckesson disagreed:

The only people who were violent last night were the Baton Rouge Police department. The protesters remained peaceful, both here and across the country.

As for Evans, she has yet to give an interview. According to several media outlets, including the Daily Mail and The Atlantic, a social media account connected to her had this update:

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.

She also asked friends to refrain giving interviews on her behalf. She would like to tell her own story — and it will no doubt be quite powerful. Just like her photo.