WASHINGTON, D.C. – Protests are Evan Sisley’s favorite thing to photograph, for one reason:
“You get an adrenaline rush. You definitely have anger there. There’s tons of emotion,” the 18-year-old high school student and freelance photographer said. “It’s right on the verge of sparking into something bigger.”
Those words rang true on Jan. 20 when Sisley, who was chronicling a protest by a group of anarchists at the presidential inauguration, was thrown to the ground by a police officer. Sisley’s camera was broken during the assault.
Sisley, a senior at Chantilly High School in Virginia, arrived downtown at 9 a.m. on Inauguration Day to cover the demonstrations for his high school newspaper, The Purple Tide, and Young D.C., a regional youth newspaper. When he heard that a group of anarchists planned to retaliate with violence against any police officers who performed unlawful searches, he decided to capture the protest.
“If anything was going to spark, this would be a good group to try and follow,” Sisley said.
As the group of protesters began moving toward an entrance to the inauguration festivities and tearing down a fence, police officers began spraying pepper spray, Sisley said, forcing demonstrators to run. Sisley and other journalists followed to continue taking pictures and chronicling the event, he said.
“That’s when the police officer threw me up against [a] car … and threw me against the ground,” he said.
As Sisley was on the ground he continued to take pictures, he said. Another photographer, Jeffrey Brush, photographed Sisley as he was on the ground. A police officer stood above him with a baton in one hand and a can of pepper spray in the other, Sisley said.
“It’s pretty visible that I was there as press. I had two cameras on, one of which was in my hand. I had a camera bag, I had a photo vest on and I had high school [press] credentials,” Sisley said. “At that point I think the last thing on [the police officer’s] mind was checking credentials.”
Sisley said he was pulled away from the ground by protesters and an emergency medical technician asked if he needed medical help. But all he could think to do was continue taking pictures, he said.
“You know that mode … where your mind is not necessarily in what’s going on around you? That’s exactly what it was,” Sisley said. “It was focusing on getting the shot.”
Sisley estimates the damage to his camera will cost around $1,000 to repair. Sisley says he does not plan to follow through with a legal claim. He said it would be difficult to know the officer’s name or the department in which he works.
Sgt. Joe Gentile of the Washington Metropolitan Police said two officers were taken to the hospital after they were hit in the face with chemicals at an Inauguration Day protest at 7th and D Streets, the intersection where Sisley was taking pictures.
Gentile said this year’s festivities were unique for the police department because it was the first since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, so there was an even greater emphasis on security.
“I think all in all we were fortunate to have the assistance of a number of outside law enforcement agencies so we could maintain our presence throughout the entire city for routine patrol and still have officers at the inauguration,” Gentile said. “I think for the most part we were very fortunate … that everything ran as smoothly as it did.”
Sisley said that what happened on Inauguration Day will not keep him from covering the next protest in the nation’s capital–but he will be more prepared.
“I’ll definitely insure my equipment next time,” he said. “I guess that would be the lesson I learned: Buy insurance.”
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