Turmoil marked last summer’s protests over the killing of several unarmed black men by police. Then a sniper targeted law enforcement officers in Dallas.
America was on edge, anticipating escalating violence as protesters confronted police in cities across the county. No one knew where these incidents would take the country in the midst of a divisive presidential campaign. The mood reminded me of protests and riots of the 1960s and early ’70s over civil rights and the Vietnam War.
For three straight days this summer, the news grew more ominous. On July 5, Baton Rouge police officers pinned Alton Sterling to the ground before one of them shot him. On July 6, a Minnesota police officer shot Philando Castile at a traffic stop. On July 7, a sniper killed five police officers in Dallas at what had been a peaceful Black Lives Matter rally.
Two days later, Ieshia Evans made a stand, confronting a phalanx of police officers during a protest in Baton Rouge, and the world recognized a moment of reckoning when the photograph went viral.
The powerful image of two police officers and the peaceful protester was striking. The officers, clad in riot gear, charging to do battle; the woman standing calmly, her sundress gently blowing in the breeze. The officers’ faces clouded by shields; her face serene. A crack in the road divides the officers and the woman.
I look at the photograph and wonder: Where is the threat that generates this response? It was a question many people asked of the shootings that sent people to the streets. How does she stand there resolute, ready to accept an unknown fate? What strength and conviction she must possess.
The photograph of Evans became an iconic image of the summer protests. People have compared it to the image of the “tank man” during the Tiananmen Square protest in 1989. The unknown rebel faced down a column of advancing Chinese tanks after the military had quashed a pro-democracy protest.
The fate of “tank man” is not known. Some stories say he is living somewhere in mainland China. Others say he was arrested and executed. Evans was arrested along with dozens of other protesters for blocking the highway in Louisiana. She was released.
Photographer Jonathan Bachman was covering the protest in Baton Rouge when he saw Evans. “That was the first image I transferred (to Reuters) because I knew it was going to be an important photo,” he told Buzzfeed in July. “You can take images of plenty of people getting arrested, but I think this one speaks more to the movement and what the demonstrators are trying to accomplish here in Baton Rouge.
“She was there, she wasn’t resisting, and she had every intention of not moving.”
Evans, a nurse and mother to a young son, lives in Pennsylvania and traveled to Baton Rouge to stand up against the injustice she had been witnessing.
Her peaceful stand is now etched into all our minds.