What should I be doing instead of this?
April 6th, 2011 By | News | Posted In: Protests, History, Human Rights, Media Criticism

A Teenager's Introduction to the Riots


In following with Cincinnati tradition, I'll begin this story by telling you where I went to high school.

In April of 2001, I was senior at Lakota East High School in West Chester. I was deeply involved with the school's enthusiastic journalism program. Unlike many teen-agers, I did not suffer from indecision. I knew I wanted to be a photojournalist.

Through family connections, I had met with a local Associated Press photographer a couple times for job shadowing opportunities. We got along pretty well, so he'd sometimes tip me off to news events that he thought I'd like to cover.

One weekend he called to ask if I wanted to cover the funeral of Timothy Thomas with him and other local media.

"So you want to come down and meet up with me to shoot the funeral," he said. "Things have been pretty calm lately. They'll be a lot of media and police around."

"Hell yeah," I confidently replied. "But I have ask my mom... Will you talk to her?"

I wasn't able to hear what he said to her, but he was either very convincing or she was a very irresponsible parent. Either way, I was soon in my car headed to downtown Cincinnati, trying to mentally prepare for what was going to happen.

The fear wasn't an issue. I was too stupid to realize how close to danger I was.

The scene seemed more like a festival than a funeral. A disparate and huge crowd had gathered around the church where the service was being held. I pointed my camera at everything, shooting with very little purpose and even less knowledge of what story I was trying to convey.

The Black Panthers left me alone, the bandana-clad groups of young black men didn't even notice me.

I was 17 and the thrill of being in a large crowd that was gathered for a reason other than a Thunderhawk basketball game was so foreign to me that I drifted along in auto-pilot.

My overwhelmed state was quickly sharpened when a police cruiser drove by. Officers were stationed several blocks away at the ready for any trouble. I later found out that the cruiser that breeched the neutral zone was most likely a scout vehicle to see if it was safe for Gov. Bob Taft to make an appearance.

The mood suddenly shifted. I can still recall the heat that rose up the back of my neck when I realized that this shit was serious.

Luckily, the rest of the day was relatively calm. I remember driving home that afternoon in silence, no radio. I had learned so much from talking to people and seeing the situation firsthand. I felt that I should be able to make an educated decision about whose fault this was. I should be able to return to West Chester and explain to my fellow students the root cause of why our prom was being moved away from a downtown venue.

But I couldn't. I even returned to cover the indictment of Officer Stephen Roach, which still turned up more questions than answers.


It took me years to realize that when you learn enough about both sides of a complicated issue, it's very hard to decide which side is right. And it took me even longer to realize that my job is not to decide.

As a journalist, I don't get to decide anything. I can only report. It's comforting to me that I don't have to choose sides. I'm just here to tell the story.

Journalistic neutrality isn't something most journalists fight to maintain within themselves, it's a state we retreat to in order that we stay sane.

The photos above were made at Timothy Thomas' funeral (top) and the indictment of Officer Stephen Roach (bottom) by the author.

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