Essays | Police | Politics

I Was There

A reflection on invisibility

Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign

This is a postscript to “Lightning Doesn’t Strike Twice,” an essay on the one year anniversary of the Black Friday 2015 protests against the police killing of Laquan McDonald.

I searched through hundreds of pictures on Google Images, but I found only two confirming my attendance at the protest. Neither published photo features me as the main subject, but the photo JR Fleming has (shown below) definitely provides the corroborating evidence that it is, in fact, me in the frames.

The first photo I found on an e-zine published by a Marxist political party based in Minneapolis. The principal subject is Frank Chapman of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression; he’s also a central figure in the campaign to establish a Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC) in Chicago. The article in the e-zine draws attention to Chapman’s work and Laquan’s murder (the main theme of the protest).

The subtle grin used by Frank on this photo first gave me the impression it was a setup, or at minimum, Frank knew the photographer. Oddly, it is one of few protest images published online in black and white.

Until finding this photo I had been prepared to publicly reveal I could become invisible in front of cameras while simultaneously remaining visible to humans. I first learned of this amazing power, possessed by statues used in West African religious ceremonies, as a teenager on family vacation. The locals said the statues would not appear in the photos we took. The fact they still are clearly visible in those pictures will never completely convince me selective invisibility is impossible.

Because the newsletter publishing Chapman’s confident profile is not corporate-owned nor widely read, I was ready to claim a partial victory. Then I found the second picture. Fifty-or-so photos later I found a photo supposedly published by the Chicago Tribune. It shows the Maze Jackson address I referred to near the end of the story. I’m standing just a few feet in front of Maze, to his left.

image12Neither photo has me prominently featured, but both match the one supplied by Fleming. Similar to Fleming’s picture, the Tribune photo has me with shoulders hunched, hands driven deep into the pockets of my oversized trench coat. The picture of a man freezing the family jewels. I was probably already daydreaming of my coming stroll inside the warmth of the mall.

While the patron saint watching over creative-types-on-deadline had again protected me (miraculously keeping photos of the protest on Fleming’s phone nearly a year later) I decided to push my luck. Like most organizers, he has gazillions of images on various social media accounts. Surely he would have another shot that would make me look more, well, heroic.

His photo shows me marching along two other Chicago organizers. Jeff Baker (left) is a principal organizer for CPAC and one of the planners of Black Friday 2015. Shameless plug number two: Jeff also wrote the first draft of what became the List of Demands, a website featuring an agenda for Black Chicago, an online petition, and sections for forums and calendars we know will become a useful tool for Black social and community organizations in Chicago.

Brian Mullins (far left) is a grassroots political strategist, who I think is the first Black person to say I should consider voting for Bernie (I did). He probably knows more than anyone else I know how to explain something the local Democratic Party wishes wasn’t true: a lot more Black people in Cook County supported Bernie than anyone thought possible.

It wasn’t vanity to ask for a different photo. I had important, practical reasons. The photo above shows both Baker and Mullins properly dressed for cold, windy, wet weather, while I am not. Both men have wives, while it is clearly evident—at least among the women on both sides of my family—that I do not have one. There is a risk these women will use the photo as ammo in the annual holiday-season “Why Aren’t You Married?” cross-examination. They will point to the photo as proof that married men are better taken care of, or at least have more sense. My mother and her two older sisters (85 and 89, respectively) now all have smartphones. With my luck, one of the millennials will teach them how to send photos by email.

As I write this, I have no clue what either the political landscape (thus the need for turning out on the streets) or my family’s predilections for matchmaking will look like come Black Friday 2016. Becoming a ghost every now-and-then might come in handy.

Loren Taylor was born and raised on the South Side. He spent over twenty years living and traveling in Europe as a singer-songwriter before returning to Chicago in 2010. He currently volunteers with community organizations, including the Community Peace Surge and the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign.

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