How the Post-Dispatch’s photo staff is covering Ferguson

A demonstrator throws back a tear gas container after tactical officers broke up a group of bystanders on Chambers Road near W. Florissant Avenue on Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014. Photo by Robert Cohen, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

A demonstrator throws back a tear gas container after tactical officers broke up a group of bystanders on Chambers Road near W. Florissant Avenue on Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014. Photo by Robert Cohen, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

After three days of very loud and very angry protests, St. Louis Post-Dispatch Director of Photography Lynden Steele followed his staffers’ Twitter feeds, text messages and listened to scanner chatter for perspective.

By 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, as the end of the traditional news cycle drew near, he searched for an appropriate photograph that reflected a day of calm.

The Rev. Al Sharpton visited the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson in response to the police shooting of unarmed Michael Brown. Two peaceful services were held where followers raised their hands in the air and shouted, “Hands up, don’t shoot,” and then walked into the street.

On assignment for the fourth day was veteran photographer Robert Cohen, who earlier in the day told Poynter, “This was the most violent coverage that I have been a part of my 27 or so years in the profession.”

“Race has not been in the news every day” Cohen said about his 15-year tenure at the Post-Dispatch, “but it has been simmering in this town.” It was different during 10 years he spent in Memphis.

“In Memphis it was a constant discussion. In St. Louis, I found that was not the case,” Cohen said. “People simmer and stare here. And when they do talk, whether in person or online, it’s much more vitriolic. That’s not a blanket statement, but I see this quite a bit.”

After midnight, that quieter evening calm quickly changed.

“This was a quiet night and I was unsure about which picture to send until 12:28 a.m.,” Steele said in an email, “when the police started firing tear gas … and a protester decided to throw it back.”

“It happened too late for the paper,” he said, “but we’ve posted it online.”

“I really believed that we’d be cool last night,” Cohen added in an email. “Much smaller gathering of demonstrators … That group declared they were going to leave the police blockade with dignity, got in a line and walked away silently. We all said a collective ‘ahhhh.’ But then another gathering started a few blocks away, and that ended poorly.”

Covering Ferguson since Saturday, the Post-Dispatch team has shown “how fast you have to be,” as Steele put it, “and you cannot live on daily deadline.”

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  • Chris Nunez

    Reporter Cohen is too young to remember the late 50s, the 60s and 70s of my generation. This is unlike the Civil Rights movement in that folks in the 50s did not react to Chief Conner, but it’s more like the response to law enforcement’s attacks on the anti war movement marches… We’ve been here before, and after a lull things have not improved. Now police are militarized… Why are citizens being made ‘the enemy’? That’s a rhetorical question because I know why. Just look at who runs Ferguson…. but who actually lives there.