Ferguson Images Evoke Civil Rights Era and Changing Visual Perceptions

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tags: Ferguson, Civil Rights Era



Danny Lyon, one of the photographers whose work came to define the civil rights upheaval in the South in the 1960s, said he was struck on Thursday when he saw a news image from the racially torn suburb of Ferguson, Mo., showing four police officers arrayed in a phalanx.

In part, it was because Mr. Lyon had taken a picture in 1963 in Birmingham, Ala., that looked very much like it: four officers standing in front of a police car with rifles and helmets, in a city where highly publicized clashes between protesters and the police helped turn the tide of public opinion toward the civil rights movement. But the image from Ferguson, for all its formal similarities, could not have been more different. Today’s riot police officers were wearing military-style camouflage and carrying military-style rifles, their heads and faces obscured by black helmets and gas masks as they stood in front of an armored vehicle.

“It didn’t look like America. It looked like Soweto,” Mr. Lyon said, referring to the South African township that was a hotbed of protests against apartheid. “It looked like soldiers. And soldiers’ job isn’t to protect. Their job is to kill people and to be ready to die.”




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