“It was my day off and I was just doing dad stuff,” said David Carson, staff photographer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about the day that “blew-up (his) career.”
Carson was shopping with his daughter on August 9, 2014 when he read tweets that 18-year-old Michael Brown had been shot and killed in Ferguson, Missouri by officer Darren Wilson.
At first, Carson said that he just thought the Michael Brown case would subside until friends, family and neighbors began to gather on the street where Brown was shot and the media coverage began.
“On the first day, there were so many times I thought that (the protest) was over and I was wrong,” Carson said.
As the protest and the coverage grew, Carson said he and other local journalists “took on a verification role” in the publicity of this national event.
Ferguson: Before and After
“I was familiar with Ferguson before Ferguson ever became a hashtag. So while the national media and international media descended on Ferguson in August, I had been there for 15 years beforehand,” Carson said. “So I think that is the difference; the national media comes in when the story is very dramatic and at its peak, but then leave before the story is actually finished, and the story of Ferguson is actually continuing.”
Carson adds that, during the riots, Ferguson still had moments of calm and clarity.
“People think that Ferguson was very violent all the time, and that’s not accurate,” Carson continued. “There were open debates in the crowd about what sort of protest Ferguson was going to be … whether this was going to be a peaceful, sustained loud protest, or whether this was going to be a violent protest and people were going to act out on their anger.”
Carson, who found out about the initial shooting through social media, said he wasn’t sure everything on Twitter was accurate as far as Brown’s death.
“I don’t think everything that was being circulated on Twitter was true, but there was nothing coming out on the police’s side to counteract that narrative,” Carson said. “So in the absence of information from the police, the protesters in the community filled in the narrative on their own on social media.”
The police, after being reluctant to release information, were less than inviting to Carson covering the events.
“The Missouri State Police were yelling at me on a bullhorn telling me ‘You must leave the area; this is an unlawful assembly,’” Carson said. “When arguing with a cop, you’ll lose 10 times out of 10 because they’ve made up their mind and they can arrest you … as a journalist you don’t really want to push it to the point where you get arrested because then you’re done reporting for the day.”
Although on the evening of Aug. 10 a protester reportedly, “kicked (his) ass,” Carson said the protesters were overall fairly inviting to him because they wanted Brown’s case to get noticed.
“The protesters did a very effective job of communicating the story that they wanted to have told,” he said.
“There are more discussions taking place on what St. Louis is going to look like in the future.”
Although Darren Wilson was ultimately acquitted, the people of Ferguson have started a conversation.
“There is a distrust of the police right now that (the St. Louis community is) trying to overcome. The police have a credibility problem now, where the community doesn’t necessarily believe the things that they’re saying all the time,” Carson said. “No one’s getting tear gassed on a nightly basis anymore, but what’s happening is this change, this is how St. Louis is changing, and that’s what we’re in the process of documenting right now.”
Carson, Ferguson Alderman Antonio French, and USA Today Reporter Yamiche Alcindor will be giving a lecture on first amendment rights on Tuesday in Tucker Theater at 7 p.m.
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