The photojournalist Kaitlin Newman (@kaitlinobscura) is based in Baltimore, Maryland. She started photojournalism at a young age, but her passion was ignited in 2015 when 25 year old Freddie Gray was killed by the Baltimore Police Department. This murder was followed by six weeks of unrest.
Freddie Gray was arrested on April 12, 2015. Gray sustained a fatal spinal injury to the neck region when he was transported by Baltimore Police officers in a police van. He was handcuffed, shackled and placed head first, on his stomach into the back of the van. He was never secured with a seat belt. Maryland's state attorney, Marilyn Mosby said Gray initially made eye contact with three police officers, began to run, then eventually surrendered. Mosby also stated that no probable cause was given. She points out that a knife was found on Gray. Baltimore Police originally reported that this knife was a switchblade. However, it was not a switchblade, nor was it illegal to carry.
As he was being arrested, he was placed in the prone position face down on the ground. He said he could not breathe. He swung his legs and yelled. One of the officers then moved him to a position known as the "leg lace", a strategy used to restrain a person in wrestling.
According to Mosby, Gray requested medical attention on two separate stops on the way to Central Booking. His arresting officers did not accommodate these requests. Eventually, Gray was found unconscious. Still no medical assistance was called for. Once they arrived at the intake facility, after the 30 minute journey, Gray was in cardiac arrest and died from his injuries less than a week later on April 19.
Although charges were filed against officers Caesar Goodson Jr., the driver of the police van, William Porter, Brian Rice, Edward Nero, Garrett Miller and Alicia White, including second degree depraved heart murder, all charges were eventually dropped.
Kaitlin Newman grew up in Baltimore. Gray's murder happened about three miles from her home. "It was really eye opening when it happened in my own backyard." She comments, "I chose to cover it because it was unfolding right before my eyes and it was important to show the rest of the nation what was happening here from a first person point of view".
At one point, she observed protestors rushing toward a CNN video camera, yelling and waving their signs. This incident made the media report dangerous, unsafe conditions. In reality, the demonstration that day was mostly peaceful and attendees were rather calm. Newman says, "This experience taught me how crucial details and facts really are."
The demonstrations lasted for six weeks and were mostly peaceful. However, at times protests were dangerous due to the civil unrest. Newman felt safer with groups of her colleagues. She states, "We always went out together and had each other's backs". Protective equipment was also necessary: helmets, gas masks, vests and goggles. She says, "Not only do rubber bullets and pepper spray hurt but the aftermath of being attacked with those tools leaves you very vulnerable, especially with a lot of [photography] gear." She notes that "when parts of it got out of control it was never planned. You'd be able to feel it coming though."
Newman comments that the neighborhood of Penn North became "the intersection of cops versus protestors versus media... The CVS that was burned down became a gathering spot". Essentially every day and every night folks congregated to protest and reflect. They were often met by Baltimore police, as well as law enforcement from surrounding counties. Cars were on fire, Molotov cocktails were thrown, police and the National Guard stood in lines against protestors. Even when happy, peaceful gatherings took place - full of music, dancing and rollerskating - police lined the street in full riot gear.
Newman was 24 years old at the time of Gray's death. She was finding her true calling as a journalist. Prior to covering these protests, she covered arts and entertainment. After the demonstrations she went back to covering these lighthearted events and felt unfulfilled. "It felt really surreal and uncomfortable. I didn't like it and I felt like my journalism skills were going to waste." Now she solely contributes to multiple major outlets, The Baltimore Banner, The Baltimore Business Journal, The Washington Business Journal and Buzzfeed News, and passes her wisdom on to her students at Towson University. "I hope to continue sharing stories ethically and in a way that amplifies and sheds light on issues we have in my community. I also want to be able to bring that experience to my classroom and help the next generation succeed."