“Chaotic and crazy.” That’s how photographer Bellamy Brewster describes the protest that led him to the streets of Los Angeles, California over the weekend. Brewster, who makes a living shooting beautiful clothes, models, and locales, said the demonstration stemming from the deaths of Black men and women at the hands of law enforcement propelled him to turn his camera to another subject — social injustice.
For the last several days the New York native has been grabbing his camera and heading out to West Hollywood to capture the righteous rage being experienced by so many in America right now. On the first day he expected to meet protesters moved to action. He expected to find people so fed up with the current state of the country that they were driven to demand change. But what he didn’t expect was a baton to the stomach and a hard look at the power of white privilege.
Brewster’s first foray into social justice protests was quite naturally shocking. “At first everything was incredible because I saw familiar faces and friends handing out water bottles. I was like ‘this is awesome, this is great, this is fantastic,’” Brewster tells ESSENCE. “But as I got closer and closer to the front, things began to feel different.”
When Brewster made his way to the head of the protesters, he says the atmosphere began to feel hectic. “I got to the front of the march and the dynamics of the protest had changed,” he recalls. “It didn’t make sense to me that police were blocking the way in the middle of the street where people were trying to peacefully march. When I tried to go around on the sidewalk, I was immediately hit with a baton.”
Brewster shares that in the moment he was stunned. And on Instagram, he later described the incident as eye-opening. After protestors witnessed his abuse at the hands of law enforcement, a white woman who was attending the march, pulled him back and positioned herself in front of him.
“What happened next reshaped my entire perspective on race and this country,” Brewster writes on IG. “The same cop that hit me with a baton gripped his baton less tightly, less willing to harm the white people in front of me. This is white privilege. This is an illustration of what it means to be Black in our country.”
While the vast majority of the West Hollywood protestors were there to peacefully make a statement, Brewster says the scene turned chaotic when met by authorities. “It’s intense. It’s like you’re in this little realm. Things are happening around you and it’s literally like being in a war zone,” the creative director shares with ESSENCE. “Someone runs past me, I hear a sound. They’re running from rubber bullets. I shoot. I try to capture that as best I can in my frantic state. My shutter speed is blurry, I think quickly in my frantic state and I shoot.” Brewster says next to him is someone with shards of glass in their leg. Others are taken down by the projectiles coming from officers.
“People are trying to march. People want to be heard. People want to be seen. People want to be understood,” says Brewster. “But, what happens, as humans, when you’re trying to have a conversation and you’re not hearing me. I’m not being heard, my words aren’t being heard, eventually, things begin to boil over.”