Conflicts & War

Journalist who lost eye in protests: Minorities face systemic violence in US

By Ana Milena Varon

Los Angeles, Jun 2 (efe-epa).- A photojournalist, author and activist who was struck by a police-fired rubber bullet and lost her left eye last week while covering protests in Minneapolis following the death in police custody of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African-American man, said rioting is the only tool racial minorities have to combat the systemic violence and poverty they face.

After returning to her home in Nashville, Tennessee, Linda Tirado said in an interview with Efe that the permanent damage she suffered is not the responsibility of one person in particular but rather of “a system that sees accountability as discretionary” and allows police to “fire into crowds and at journalists, driven by racism.”

“You have to be blind to not see the racism. Three or four weeks ago … it was, you know, white militias (demanding an end to coronavirus-triggered lockdowns in Michigan) and nobody got tear-gassed. But if a black man gets killed and people protest that, then the National Guard gets called out. So I think it’s becoming very obvious,” she said.

The freelance photographer said the US has been heading down a dark road for years but that President Donald Trump’s language has exacerbated the situation.

“Trump’s rhetoric about some Mexicans not being good people and the press being the enemy of freedom and black people being thugs … you can’t listen to that for years and think that it’s not going to come to something like this,” Tirado said.

The author and activist is best known for “Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America,” a 2014 non-fiction book that stems from an autobiographical essay she wrote the year before about her struggle to survive on a meager salary, a reality that she said affects millions in the US and Hispanics in particular.

Six years after that book was published, the author said she is convinced the root cause of Floyd’s death (ruled a homicide by two autopsies) and subsequent violent protests and rioting are poverty and the lack of opportunities for a large number of Americans.

“When was the last time you heard of police shooting somebody in a nice and wealthy section of town or stay on their neck for 10 minutes?” she said, referring to the actions by a white, since-fired police officer, Derek Chauvin, that led to Floyd’s death on May 25 in Minneapolis.

(Chauvin has been arrested and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, but protesters also are demanding that charges be brought against three other officers involved in that episode of police brutality)

Referring to the nationwide looting and violence that has occurred in the wake of Floyd’s death, she said they are expressions of frustration by a community that has been ignored.

Tirado took liquid antacid with her when she traveled to Minneapolis last Wednesday, planning to use it to wash out her tear-gassed eyes if necessary.

She also was warned by demonstrators about potential police violence minutes before the first curfew went into effect in that midwestern city and the first rounds of tear gas were fired by law enforcement.

But Tirado, named one of BBC’s 100 Women of 2014, still went out on the street wearing goggles and a face mask and ran in the direction of the tear gas, trying to capture the right image to reflect the seething tension.

While focusing her camera, she felt the rubber bullet slam into her face. She didn’t see or hear it coming but only felt a sharp pain and then a burning sensation as the tear gas mixed with the blood leaking from her eye.

Seeing her face bathed in blood, some demonstrators led her to the back of the crowd of demonstrators, lifted her onto a pickup truck and took her to a hospital.

Tirado, who still has not sold her story to any media outlet, awoke from the anesthesia to the worst possible news: despite the efforts of surgeons and an hours-long operation, she is now permanently blind in her left eye.

Asked if journalists are a target of police in the Floyd protests, she emphatically said, “yes.”

“If you can get the press out of the way, then all you’ve got is complaints directly from protesters,” who easily can be dismissed as “agitators.”

Tirado now is unsure what her future holds.

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