Last summer’s protests against police brutality in the U.S were often met with further violence by police themselves. Between May 29, 2020, and June 4, 2020, alone in Chicago, there were over 250 complaints against Chicago Police Department officers, many for excessive force. The same pattern has occurred in other parts of the world protesting against police brutality, including in Mexico.
On April 2, a group of roughly feminist protestors marched from the Mexican state of Quintana Roo to the Mexican capital of Mexico City protesting the police killing of El Salvadorean migrant Victoria Salazar. The killing and protests afterwards had many similarities to the case of George Floyd, as Salazar’s killing was also caught on video.
I spoke with freelance reporter Lizbeth Hernandez, founder of the independent media group Kaja Negra, dedicated to giving context to the feminist movement in Mexico, to ask about why she covers protests using Twitter and what role a journalist can play within a social movement.
— 𝙻𝚒𝚣 (@abismada_) April 2, 2021
Can you tell me about the atmosphere of that day, April 2? Did you upload the photos when you were there live?
It was live. When I cover mobilizations, I usually make threads on Twitter, just chronologically giving an account of what is happening – I consider it relevant to report on everything. I am an immediate witness there, so it is something that I will report through my account, and sometimes I combine it with photography or videos. I try not to editorialize, but to show what is happening. In this particular demonstration there was already a police operation, because of the context that has been experienced in the city with respect to women’s mobilizations.[There] is already a constant [risk when] the police are there and confrontations between the police and the demonstrators are expected. And that day, even more so, because of the particular case of Victoria.
Can you talk about the danger in covering a protest like that?
The difficulty of covering these demonstrations has also been increasing as things have become more complicated in the country. Police operations are not really meant to guarantee security, sometimes they [react] more as scenarios of confrontation. As a photographer and journalist I sometimes have to be in the middle of many things. Between the demonstrators, the police, other press colleagues, human rights observers and onlookers.
I’ve been trying to fine-tune security protocols. And also train myself to be aware. And that is something that I reiterate to the media when they sometimes ask me for free [pieces] of my work and I tell them, hey, I support it and it’s work. It’s not the same to say, “I decided to give a service to the people who follow me.” It’s not for the media to take and use my material without [paying me for] my work.
In the States I have also seen the press sometimes run dangerously close to the violence that a protest can mount to. I freelanced much of my coverage of the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd and I know what you mean of the physical danger and risk you expose yourself to.
Exactly. If we decide to go and document what is happening, we also have to be careful, because sometimes things escalate. I mean, we’ve been seeing it: with the case you mention of the protests after the assassination of George Floyd and here in Mexico, with the feminist protests. But now we have also [seen] it with the mobilizations in Colombia. Social protest continues to be very stigmatized and governments continue to respond in a way that is sometimes very arbitrary, very violent.
We cannot be naïve and we have to be ready and ready to protect ourselves, because I don’t think it’s about just exposing ourselves like that. We also have to take care of ourselves in order to continue doing our work.
What role can a journalist play in this feminist movement?
The answer will vary depending on who you ask, but in my case – and fortunately it is something that I can discuss constantly with other colleagues – it is the importance of thinking about journalism from the context we are currently living in, of recognizing the importance of exploring other narratives. What are still the foundations of journalism? And what are the informative challenges that people are currently facing?
That implies a challenge of information in terms of not only mastering new technologies, platforms and so on, but also concepts. What are we talking about when we talk about feminism or feminisms? What we are talking about if we are referring to a feminist perspective or a gender perspective? I think it is also a challenge to open ourselves to discussions and to listen to what people need as an informative input to make decisions.
I think journalism has many variants. There are multiple formats, from the daily news to reports, chronicles, documentaries and so on. Now, there is the urgency that many media have to appear on TikTok and Instagram, things like that. But beyond that, I think it’s always important to go back to the essence of what we were doing and the role we want to play.
What do you think your responsibility is when you are present at a demonstration?
When I go to demonstrations, I always keep in mind that I want to contribute the best I can. I am also very careful to never propagate hate speech. I try to situate what I am observing in the best possible way and when there are cases of abuse I try to document it as best I can, so that those who commit these abuses cannot easily refute that there were abuses, or that they cannot deny it, but say here it is.
I also try to offer the population in general tools that allow them to understand the moment we are going through, the reason for the demonstrations. Because suddenly it seems in certain media discourses or public discussions that the girls go out just because it occurred to them and they want to scratch and destroy and the context that motivates them to go out is omitted.
So for me it’s always very important not to forget the context or the reasons that motivate a mobilization. It’s not a vacation, it’s not like dad’s going out for a while. There are specific motivations that lead to these mobilizations.
For more information on Kaja Negra or Liz Hernandez, you can follow her and the group on Twitter.
Header image by Richie Requena