One Photographer’s Experience; the George Floyd Washington D.C. Protests

Guest blog; all text and photos by Ben Eisendrath, depicting his experience on Sunday May 31st, 2020

When the crowd’s chants and weight against the steel barricades diminished, the wall of police stepped back, careful to remain shield-to-shield. The quieter the protesters, the further away law enforcement fell. But when the chants turned instead to advancing through the wall, the opposing force closed the gap to intimidating effect; a tidal ebb and flow of conflict.

The first man to jump over the barrier knelt in the grass and delivered a Black Power salute. One provocative profile with his back to thousands stood behind the steel facing hundreds of Secret Service, Park Police and National Guardsmen arrayed across Lafayette Park. Within seconds, two more men joined him, and they threw their hands up to the “don’t shoot” stance. At that point, the dam went from leaking to collapse and protesters poured over onto the lawn. The police, who hadn’t moved on the first three men then surged forward to stem the break. Miraculously, through a hail of thrown water bottles, the protesters were pushed back and the fence reset. The dam repaired, police retreated.

© 2020 Ben Eisendrath / @insomnigraphic +
© 2020 Ben Eisendrath / @insomnigraphic

On the other end of the line, two teens leapt over; a boy and a girl.  Their breach surprised both sides. The police closest to them, including a senior officer, came forward and corralled them with shields and hands, pushing them to the barrier.  The police yelled for protesters to help lift the teens back over to their side. “Someone strong! Lift him over!” It came off as a parental moment in the midst of an epic. The same group of officers repeatedly walked forward to hand back signs that had been dropped on their side, before stepping back into their defensive line.

© 2020 Ben Eisendrath / @insomnigraphic
© 2020 Ben Eisendrath / @insomnigraphic

And so it continued. Insults, hurled water bottles and moments of humanity between the protest and the object of its fury, the police. Several officers who made the mistake of holding their shields upside-down (“POLICE” inverted) were targets of comedic abuse and smiles on both sides.  Officers of color were singled out and shamed as traitors. A black officer who also held an upside-down shield received “And you’re the black one! How does that look [expletive]??” to a roar of the crowd.

At exactly 7:00pm EST, whether planned or spontaneous, the bulk of the protest broke off and began to march again, along H Street toward the intersection of 14th. A tight column of police followed. The streets had been blocked off long in advance and belonged to the protesters and police alone. The chanting throng passed closed-down, boarded-up hotels and storefronts.  And when some lingered too close, officers moved between the windows and the protesters, forming temporary standoffs.

© 2020 Ben Eisendrath / @insomnigraphic
george_floyd5_2020-2 copy
© 2020 Ben Eisendrath / @insomnigraphic

Then something happened. Out of relative order came a stampede of chaos. Hundreds, running as if a fuse had been lit. Most ran by, but at the center, a group of protesters began rocking an MPD car.

© 2020 Ben Eisendrath / @insomnigraphic

The flash-bang grenades came. Unsure of where each would land, the crowd surged in all directions, anticipating the next explosion.  Some stopped and turned, hands up, redoubling the “Don’t Shoot” chant. Some dropped to their knees. An officer climbed atop the previously-threatened car and took aim at concentrated areas of the street with a disbursement weapon, protesters scattering as the barrel came their way. Wherever a grenade hit, the street filled with smoke. Some participants were hit with paintball-like pepper projectiles and came limping out of clouds of sulfur. Again, “Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot”. Protesters were seen tossing fireworks at the advancing line. Young voices continued the chant, again and again, while approaching their riot-gear-equipped opposites through an acrid mist.

And then, sealed off with cars and shields from marching North or West, protesters were on the move again, following H Street and toward the Capital.


© 2020 Ben Eisendrath / @insomnigraphic

Notes on the gear from the author:

I chose my Leica M10 and mounted the tiniest wide/normal I have, a contrasty 1970 Summicron 35mm (Germany variant). I didn’t want to stand out, and I wanted unlimited “film”. All was well with my setup until the grenades went off, which caused me— the human— to knock my aperture tab and close down too far for some of the mayhem.

Aside from the long lens digital photographers covering the event, there were many film shooters. From the Nikon F3 and M6-holder next to me on the barrier to the young guy toting a medium-format Fujifilm 6×9.

Ben Eisendrath is a Washington D.C. resident who I met a few years ago through our love for Leica cameras and lenses. Ben owns Grillworks, a custom wood-fired culinary manufacturer. He is also a night-owl and music lover whose concert shots of GWAR, Slayer, Depeche Mode and other awesome acts can be found routinely in Parklife DC.  With night-life and rock shows halted due to Corona, Eisendrath took to the streets with thousands of his neighbors this weekend to protest the death of George Floyd.  In a rare instance, Eisendrath left his film cameras at home but armed with his M10 and vintage 35mm Summicron, he documented Sunday’s protests outside the nation’s capital.

You can check out more of Eisendrath’s work, contact, and follow him at   |  |   @Insomnigraphic

Follow, Favorite, Like, Add, Contact Johnny Martyr 


And now, finally,  begrudgingly, on Instagram!  @JohnnyMartyrPhoto


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