When We See Us: Images from a Black Lives Matter Protest

Charles Lee and Joseph Griffin, DrPH(c), MPH


A street vendor named Carl sells t-shirts in remembrance of George Floyd in San Francisco on June 21, 2020.

I met Carl (not his real name), the day after the Juneteenth celebration in San Francisco. He said that he remembered when the streets of Oakland were full of people protesting against police violence in the 1960s. Amidst a global pandemic, which affects Black people at grossly higher rates than the rest of the U.S. population, George Floyd’s viral murder video set the world ablaze. We, Black people, are not granted the privilege to solely worry about COVID-19 as the only threat to our health. It took a graphic video of Black life lost at the hands of police, not the first of its kind, for many people to believe that. Unfortunately, it is not even the latest graphic video, and too many people still believe these killings were somehow justified

A group of young men lead the procession of marchers to Lake Merritt in Oakland, CA in early June 2020

This was a Black and Brown solidarity march in remembrance of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, all of whom had been killed in separate instances all due to systemic racism. This is Oakland, where power movements such as the Black Panthers and the Brown Berets taught self-defense against the police, created social programs for their communities, and collaborated with other movements toward common goals. That was the 1960s. This photo was taken in 2020 at a march to promote Black and Brown unity toward a common goal, eradicating police brutality. The six young men in the photo showed up late to the parade, but ended up leading the marchers with their all-terrain vehicle. The joy in their faces and their music exuded hope in the midst of the pain that sparked the protest.

A young boy marches in solidarity for Black and Brown lives at Lake Merritt in Oakland, CA in early June 2020.

Black Americans are fighting two battles today. There is the devil we know, systemic police violence, and the devil we don’t, COVID-19. Even at a young age, many black children learn that the police can help or harm us. We learn ways of moving and talking with police to better our chances of walking away from an encounter alive. Black children, like the one in this photo, should not have to be masters of de-escalation techniques with adults sworn to serve and protect. But, to be Black in America means to be worried about the way in which we speak to authority figures, else we end up in one of two places, dead or in jail.

Supporters of BLM gather at Oakland’s City Hall to listen to speakers discuss the importance of voting in the upcoming presidential election in early June 2020.

I’m sorry, the sign says. The woman in this picture gleefully waived her homemade sign. Until she saw my camera and hid her face behind it. I’m sorry. Who are you sorry to? What are you sorry for? Are you ashamed? Why hide behind your sign? I’m sorry. Is it for racism, for white privilege, for the loss of another black life? I’m sorry. This is an adequate apology? It is as inadequate as Quaker Oats ending its use of Aunt Jemima, Mars Foods, Inc. removing Uncle Ben, and Bank of America committing $1 Billion to “strengthen the economic opportunities in communities of color.” I’m sorry. That is not enough after making billions of dollars off the caricatures of Black people. That is not enough from a bank that continues to violate the Fair Housing Act through discriminatory lending practices in 2020. I’m sorry. Two words, three syllables, not enough. Try harder.


Doctors and staff at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Oakland walk out of the hospital in honor of Black lives to nearby Mosswood Park in Oakland, CA on June 3, 2020.

This walkout occurred in July. Shortly after, a nurse at Kaiser filed a lawsuit claiming racial discrimination. The irony in this image is that the medical field has notoriously shown disregard for black life. From Tuskegee to Henrietta Lacks to institutional racism in many forms, there are reasons to not trust the healthcare field, and this protest brings up mixed emotions. On the one hand, there is hope that allies to the Black community and Black providers themselves are willing to stand for the cause. On the other, this could be a form of performative justice that feels good in the moment, before returning to business as usual. We need to hold these institutions accountable and require them to prove that Black lives do indeed matter through policy and practice that equitably supports the hiring of Black staff at all levels, including executive, and ensures just treatment of Black patients

A door memorializing those murdered at the hands of police, as a direct result of systemic racism and white supremacy, was photographed during a Black and Brown solidarity march around Lake Merritt in Oakland, early June 2020.

Say their names. Fifteen names on a door in downtown Oakland. Say fifteen more. Then, say fifteen more because this is only a small fraction of the black people murdered by the police since 2009, when Oscar Grant—an Oakland native, loved one, and fourth name down on the right hand side—was killed. How many were unarmed? How many posed an immediate threat? How many have been forgotten already? When this moment passes, when the hashtags lose popularity, and companies pivot to the next trending topic, we must remember that this movement is in memory of real people. People who will never see their children grow, finish the story they were telling, or achieve their dreams because they were selling loose cigarettes, playing with a toy, or asleep in her home. Say their names because in death they inspire us to fight for life.

A father gives his daughter a ride in their remote controlled toy bus during a gathering for Juneteenth at Lake Merritt in Oakland on June 19, 2020.

That smile was found on Juneteenth 2020 at Lake Merritt in Oakland. The day before, there was a march and speech in the same area. While many of the same people attended both events, the tone could not be any more different on Juneteenth. The vibe of Juneteenth was all about celebration and community. Black families, and specifically Black fathers, were in abundance. This is theOakland and the Black community we know. We make sure that we celebrate all the moments that we can. Our people are known to be able to laugh through the pain. There were no fights, no violence, and no one was harassed by the police. Actually, there were no police patrolling the area, unusual for any Black event in the Town. That is literally all that Black people are asking for, the freedom to enjoy life. Today was a good day.

A mother and son smile and pose for a photo during festivities at a Juneteenth celebration near Lake Merritt in Oakland on June 19, 2020.

I stopped Sonja (not her name) and her son to ask her how she got her ‘locs to stay, as I am growing my own. We chatted for a moment about protective Black hairstyles and then she and her son posed for this photo. This picture sums up the feeling of Juneteenth 2020 in Oakland. It was a much needed celebration that could have been overshadowed by the state of race relations in the country and the looming threat of COVID-19. But not this Juneteenth. This Juneteenth was a safe space for Black friends and their allies, families, and acquaintances to chill, restore our sense of community, and fill our spiritual reserves with hope. This photo is an homage to the resilience of Black people and of Oakland. The Town has been on the forefront of every major critical resistance movement over the past 65 years. We are here and will be here because our lives matter.