This story is adapted from commentary written for National Geographic’s daily newsletter. If you’re not yet a subscriber, sign up here.
Photographer David Guttenfelder has covered all sorts of disturbances and demonstrations overseas throughout the years for Nat Geo and the Associated Press. He’s been injured when rebels ambushed his car in Sierra Leone—one colleague riding with him was killed and another severely wounded in the attack. For years, he’s had to finagle his way past North Korea’s authoritarian government.
In the last few days, the worldwide conflict photographer is now covering a conflict in the Minnesota city where he now lives. While you would think decades of experience would give him an advantage, Guttenfelder takes pains, in a conversation with my colleague David Beard, to note his lack of story coverage from his adopted hometown and to praise the local photographers and reporters who have covered long-standing issues of housing segregation and inequities in police treatment.
However, his background does help in other ways. "It helps that I have seen pain, suffering, and rage in other places, that I can relate to what's happening and why it's happening."
He has just seen (pictured above) a burning police station, people in a flaming car, and streets crowded with people demanding the arrest of police for the death of a handcuffed black man in custody. Photographers and TV crews have been covering demonstrations by people seeking justice for slain security guard George Floyd, not just on the streets of Minneapolis and St. Paul, but in New York, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Portland, and Albuquerque. (A police officer who knelt on the neck of the suffocating Floyd was arrested and charged with murder Friday.)
"The pain is really something," Guttenfelder says of the people he is covering. He notes that the demonstrators come from different races, ethnic groups, and walks of life. In the image above, he captures demonstrators burning a car and tossing Target store mannequins on to the blaze in a parking lot across the street from the Minneapolis 3rd precinct police station.
Floyd's death, on a public street, videotaped, his hoarse words "I can't breathe" preceding his passing, was just the latest of an African American person while under Minnesota police custody. State police have hassled other journalists trying to cover the story, arresting a CNN crew earlier Friday that was trying to do its job. (The crew was released, and the governor apologized.)
In this image from Thursday night, Guttenfelder shows the demonstrators, chanting for justice. Some of them burned the police station, nearby businesses, and cars on the street.