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Noted photographer Alvin C. Jacobs Jr. recalls that fateful day in Charlottesville

Jacobs has trained his camera on protests and civil actions all over America. What happened in Charlottesville, he said, was altogether different.

Alvin C. Jacobs Jr.


It seems many in our nation where shocked by events in Charlottesville, Va., where roving groups of white supremacists marched openly and clashed violently with counter-protesters who opposed them?

For many black Americans…well, not so much.

To encourage more cross-racial dialogue, Carolinas HealthCare System hosted a recent event where members of a diverse audience were encouraged to talk openly about race in light of events in Charlottesville. Among those who spoke was Alvin C. Jacobs Jr., a Charlotte photographer – or “image activists,” as he calls himself – who has documented protests and civil actions all over America.

Jacobs later talked with Qcitymetro about what he saw and felt that day.

“The videos, photographs, the images don’t do it justice,” he said. “I’ve never seen so many people hate so many people at once. I thought it was just me they hated, being a black man. They hate everyone who isn’t them.”

Jacobs also said that, for the first time, he feared for his life while covering a protest or civil action in America.

Here are some excerpts from that interview, edited for brevity and clarity:

His decision to be there

It’s been a long line of protests that I’ve attended — Ferguson, Baltimore, Chicago, Brooklyn, Standing Rock, Flint, Milwaukee, Charlotte, of course, Charleston, Columbia.

Charlottesville was four hours up the road and I had the time off, so I figured I could best lend my photography and my activism to a cause that was just the next state over.

Gordon Parks said the camera can be a powerful tool and a weapon against injustice, and that’s exactly where I use mine.

The violence

It started out peaceful. It started out with a lot of trainings, a lot of information, and approximately 10 minutes after the initial training outside of the park, there was an altercation with the neo-Nazis or the fascists, the alt-right, and it just escalated from there. I witnessed at least six separate altercations, each one progressively worse. It was just a long day of fear and terror and just violence.

I couldn’t tell who was who. There were people everywhere, and you really couldn’t tell which side someone was on. There where groups of 20 or 30 men and women — 15 or 20 different groups, just roaming around, roving around, like hunting people. So I’m like, “I’ve got to get out of here; this doesn’t make any sense; there’s no real safety net here.”

Some of the (white supremacists) were dressed just like you and I. Some had full battle gear — body armor, carrying assault rifles. So just because somebody didn’t have on a KKK robe, so to speak…it could have been the guy in the Polo shirt and the khakis.

Why he believes blacks must not clash with hate groups

Roughly 80 percent of the people there were white, or non people of color. And so a lot of the fights, a lot of the battles, were between white people.

It (battling white supremacy) is not our fight. This absolutely is not our fight. We didn’t start this, so how can we end it? How can we dismantle something that we didn’t put into position?

White supremacy is the root of all evil in the United States of America. It has everything to do with everything that is wrong in this country. So we have to do something about inserting ourselves into battles that we can’t win.

The only thing that can happen to us is harm. The only thing that can happen to us is violence, and it’s going to be with reckless abandon. I saw police officers actually watch altercations.

There were 140 arrests in Ferguson in one day. There were only four to nine arrest — I’m not sure exactly — in Charlottesville, Virginia, even though there was one death and two police officers were killed in a helicopter.

I’m saying that we cannot physically confront white supremacy the way it was confronted by white people in Charlottesville. The governor said 80 percent of the (white supremacists) there were carrying assault rifles. What are we brining to the fight, our bodies? That’s exactly what they want. That’s exactly what violence wants — an opportunity. So if we’re there and we’re present and we’re not prepared, all we are is opportunity.

We’re going to have to do something different. I don’t care if it’s an economic boycott. I don’t care if it’s something that removes us from the actual system itself, but we cannot fight these battles the same way that our great-grandfathers did, because this is a different war.

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