Protests in Asheville spark tension, local media says

Courtney Garcia

News Writer

cgarcia1@unca.edu

During the last four months, protesters fought for racial equity and the defunding of the police in Downtown Asheville.

A protester holds a sign at a gathering on campus to honor Jacob Blake who was shot seven times by a police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Photo by Camille Nevarez-Hernandez

As protests have evolved, so has their relationship with the media, protesting against the racial inequalities in our society and police brutality toward Black, Indigenous and people of color. 

Jake Reed, 23, an Ashevillian who has been attending the demonstrations, said it remains necessary to document history to ensure the future can learn from it and identify with it. 

“In the past, reporting and capturing protests has been important, in nature, to the progression and success of the movement,” Reed said. “If the ‘60s had been a little bit earlier and we didn’t have these speeches on Youtube to turn to, I don’t think you’d have the same fuel now. Especially with the way that stuff is used so much on social media to push points and fuel people, which I think is pretty awesome.” 

George Floyd, a Black Minneapolis resident, was killed during an arrest for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill on May 25. A video shot by a bystander showed Derek Chauvin, a white Minneapolis Police Department officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck for roughly eight minutes. The incident sparked an international uproar and demonstrations across the world. 

Roughly four months later, protests still occur nationwide. Matt Henson, an Asheville native who captures live-streams and photos of the demonstrations in town, said they have evolved in many ways. Across the country, he said media outlets have been ostracized from the events and asked not to record or photograph the protesters. 

“It’s definitely a lot different than it was the first week,” Henson said. “The groups themselves seem to be getting a little more hostile to the press as it progresses, and that’s not just me, that’s WLOS and toward the other local people.” 

Henson said it’s a sensitive subject because it comes down to the right to film versus the right to be equal as a human being. 

“I hate saying it,” he said. “I know a lot of people don’t like that response, but it is a right, first and foremost to film in public for the media. It is a social event and it is something that is affecting the town.” 

Tallis Monteiro, a senior UNCA international studies student, who has attended more than five demonstrations in Asheville and Charlotte, said taking a video or pictures of the protests can often be meaningless to the movement itself but there are times where it’s appropriate including if the leaders of the protest ask you to record a certain instance that is escalating. 

“That way you have evidence of what actually happened,” Monteiro said. “Because like I said, the first-hand experience and the article don’t match up.”

Monteiro said the media should always ask for permission of anyone in the photo to publish and distribute.

“If they’re out there taking pictures of these people who are risking their safety in order to be out there then that’s just totally putting their image out there for people to see online, for people that might be harmful in the community to see and recognize and then seek them out,” Monteiro said. “Or even for higher up government officials and police officers who can see their face and then seek them out in the community and potentially endangering them. So it makes sense that the media is getting a little pushback at these protests because no one really wants their face out there.”

Due to the realistic and valid fear of being doxed by law enforcement, Reed said protesters have held some animosity toward the media. 

“I think it’s super important to blur people’s faces and stay further back, but I just think that you should also do your due diligence to protect your identity as much as possible,” he said. “Someone’s going to be taking a picture no matter what.”

Henson said he understands the public safety aspect of it, but at the same time, feels he and anyone who wants to should have the right to document the demonstrations. But, as more and more protesters have asked him to stay back, said he has. 

“I’ve tried to be respectful of their rights while still exercising mine and I feel like I’ve struck a pretty good balance because the way these phones are set up now, you can capture so much being far back,” Henson said. “I don’t need to see a face, I want to see the crowd.”

Henson said he is unlike both of the extreme sides of the media because aligned with those people or organizations in order to continue being supported,” Doverspike said.  

She said it remains necessary to look at who owns the media outlet and ultimately makes the decision. More extensive publications with larger and more diverse audiences and funders will give vastly different coverage of the protests by independent outlets. 

“These outlets depend on satisfying the perspectives of their supporters, and especially the ones they’re getting money from,” Doverspike said. “Independent and unaffiliated outlets that don’t rely on commercial success have more freedom for how they present a story.”

Monteiro said the media and, therefore, their audience often focus more on the more troublesome parts of a protest rather than the grievances, trauma and heartbreak of the community and overall is damaging to the messages of the movement.

“A lot of these news outlets are a business and they want to have good numbers and viewings,” Monteiro said. “People are drawn to read things that are a little dramatized sometimes.

By using a certain rhetoric, Henson said media outlets are able to create a narrative that fits their own agenda.  

“There’s a lot of stories of people going around setting stuff on fire and crashing all the windows and burning buildings down and all this kind of stuff and that’s just not true,” Henson said. “They over-focus on that versus the entire situation.”

Doverspike said the media is framing the protests based on what is going to be sensational, interesting or appealing to their audience. 

“I’ve seen a lot of large media outlets focusing on the violence at the protests and not the purpose of the protests or the holistic picture of the events,” she said. “It’s disappointing because consumers aren’t getting all the information to process what is actually happening, including the connections taking place, the impacts being made and the community care that is abundant.” 

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