LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - A Louisville-based photojournalist was in Washington D.C. on Wednesday, covering the riots in the Capitol from the outside.
Jon Cherry has covered protests in Louisville for months. He said he pitched a plan to Getty Images to cover the demonstration in Washington D.C. Tuesday, which was his first trip to the nation’s capital.
“I was to be stationed alone on the east lawn of the Capitol building because after the speech at The Ellipse, all the pro-Trump protesters were going to be marching their way to the Capitol building,” Cherry said.
He began on the west lawn, where he said he saw some action with counter protesters.
“There were a lot of different kinds of characters,” he said. “At times it was a very diverse protest. There were a lot of Asian Americans, Jewish Americans, there were some Catholic Clergy that were there. A lot of like religious prayer and chanting and singing.”
Cherry said things began to change when the Proud Boys showed up.
“They had a full regalia, I would say maybe 400 or 500 of them,” he said. “When they showed up all of the pro-Trump protesters were cheering, they were happy to see them, glad they were there. Seemed like the Proud Boys were the muscle, and later on you really did get to see that was the case.”
He said as a photographer trying to take pictures among the crowds, he encountered many harassing remarks, sideways glances, stern looks, and he felt like he was being targeted.
“I’ve experienced that before in other situations as a Black photographer, but in this particular situation it was pretty apparent I was not welcome there,” Cherry said. “I have never been in a situation like this ever in my entire life before. The amount of danger, physical danger I felt I was in the entire time was there because I knew people were watching me specifically.”
Cherry said the group marched from the west lawn to the east lawn where there was waist-high plastic fencing and bicycle barriers.
“The chant got much, much louder and it was pretty obvious they were going to start charging the hill,” Cherry recalled. “They came through and started knocking at the barriers, they were pushing at the barriers and police officers were also holding on to the barriers pushing in the opposite direction. They were very, very quickly overcome. We’re talking a crowd, I still don’t know how big the crowd, but there were a good 5,000 people that were behind the Proud Boys that I could see back toward the Washington Monument.”
He said he never witnessed police just letting protesters through.
“I think clearing up some of the misconceptions about the police letting everyone in. I think that’s completely false,” he told WAVE 3 News. “From what I witnessed at least, and I witnessed a lot of that forced entry, and it was pure numbers. It was a numbers game.”
Cherry described the next few moments as a “feeding frenzy” of people who rushed past the primary barriers, which led to them rushing through the secondary barriers.
“It was so bizarre because there were old people, there were mothers with children in strollers that were helping dismantle the barriers and make their way through,” he described.
When protesters got up into the Inaugural platform, Cherry said people started climbing the scaffolding for media that looks down where Joe Biden will make his Inauguration Speech later this month.
“It was almost like zombie movie, people climbing on top of things,” Cherry said. “Capitol Police and Metropolitan Police all came out in full force to reinforce the barriers that were out there, pushing against all the protesters who were also pushing against the barriers.”
He said pepper spray had been dispersed at some point and then it became a constant exchange of pepper spray between police and protesters.
“Then tear gas from the police started coming out, which actually seemed to be relatively ineffective,” Cherry said, adding the pepper spray seemed more effective as he saw people pouring milk, water, or neutralizing solutions into their eyes. “I don’t think the police were ready to be rushed in that way because almost none of them had gas masks on.”
Cherry said that at some point, people got inside the Capitol building. He saw people on scaffolding trying to break windows to get in, but they were unsuccessful. He said he did not enter the Capitol building when protesters got inside.
“I found it best to stay back, but I did get a lot of images from the windows looking in. There were a lot of moments where I couldn’t even shoot because I was too busy trying to witness them with my own eyes,” he said.
Cherry said that seeing police tear gas inside the Capitol building was one of the most shocking things.
“In contrast between what I’ve seen in Louisville and what I saw in Washington D.C. yesterday, as far as police activity goes, is I would like to see the kind of restraint in policework that was done yesterday in all situations that would deem it so,” he said. “In this case, it seemed like [tear gas] was the last thing they wanted to do. But also, Capitol Police and Metropolitan Police when I was there at least, were heavily outnumbered.”
Cherry said there were moments when protesters acted like it was a family outing. He said he saw many taking selfies during the riot, which surprised him.
“I found that important to document too. There were a lot of couples and parents and children who were taking photos in front of the Capitol building as tear gas streamed out of the windows,” Cherry said.
To see some of the images Cherry captured at the Capitol, click here.