Photographer Justin Smith Sheds New Light on Black Lives Matter Protest Riots in Charlotte

Justin Smith challenges the media representation of this week's police shooting and deadly riot with his powerful images.

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This week, in the midst of news articles about the Black Lives Matter protest in Charlotte, North Carolina that resulted in a deadly shooting, photographer Justin Smith’s stark images tell a different story. In contrast to the angry mobs on CNN, these black and white photos look like they come from another time. They harken back to the Civil Rights era and he, in fact, pairs the series with a quotation from Martin Luther King Jr., “A riot is the language of the unheard.”

“I went out and photographed the protest as a white male who can’t relate to the injustice that’s going on,” Smith said. “I can, however, document and try my best to share the good that I see with any viewer that may come across my images. Charlotte is a wonderful city with even better people. I’m witnessing firsthand what negative media can do to a progressive city.”

The Black Lives Matter protest was instigated by the killing of Keith Lamont Scott by a police officer. His family says that Scott was reading a book in his car when he was shot. The police say that Scott was armed with a handgun. The Black Lives Matter community took to the streets for a peaceful demonstration when the city officials wouldn’t release the tape of the shooting.

Smith also took photos of the riot’s aftermath. He describes one image of a looted convenience store as “the worst of it.”

“This is the ‘mayhem’ from last night,” he wrote underneath his Instagram post. One section of a city block. Don’t let national media paint a portrait for you. Go walk around and see for yourself.”

See more of Justin Smith’s photography on his portfolio, built using Format, and follow him on Instagram @basicwild.

Have you seen Format’s InFrame video series on photographer Zun Lee? His New York Times published series Father Figure explores the misunderstood stories of Black fathers and offers a new perspective on media representation of Black culture.

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