Emmy Award-winning journalist and photographer Amber Lyon has covered upheavals from the Middle East to North Africa, but it wasn't until the former CNN correspondent headed to Anaheim in the midst of the July 24, 2012 riots that she found herself caught in the crossfire.
Taking refuge between U-Haul trucks as a skirmish line advanced, she evaded the less-than-lethal projectiles shot in her direction. Lyon finally yelled “Press!” to which a policeman asked “Don't you know how to cover a riot?” Her stunning photographs of that troubled summer in Peace, Love and Pepper Spray offer a resounding “yes” in the journalist's new book.
“I knew I needed to get down there and document what was happening,” Lyon tells the Weekly as she recalled first learning about the police shooting of Manuel Diaz and subsequent repression of assembled neighbors afterward. “I did have that fear the story wouldn't get told accurately in the mainstream [media].”
Her photographs of candlelight vigils on Anna Drive, protesters bloodied in the police riot in downtown and the militarized response to demonstrations a week after frame an entire chapter dubbed 'Afghanaheim' in the coffee table book. The arresting images transport readers back to what is already beginning to fade in memory.
“I decided that I wanted to devote a whole chapter to Anaheim to raise awareness about police brutality because I don't think the nation quite realizes what happened on the streets during those couple weeks,” she says. “With this chapter and this book, I hope to always have this documented throughout history so people can go back and see what happened.”
To get the shots, Lyon practiced immersion journalism in not allowing herself to be corralled behind the advancing police lines but instead finding herself in front of them. “I've been engulfed in tear gas but I've never actually had a line of police firing on me. When it happened, I was in shock. I just screamed “Shit!”
Emerging frayed but thankfully unscathed, Lyon recounts her experience as press as not an isolated one. “The mainstream media dangerously failed to criticize this police militarization,” she says. “I even saw it when an NBC news photographer was driving a car and a wall of police walked towards it, fired and hit the windshield. In one of my photos, he's ducking down in the driver's seat terrified. NBC barely mentioned it in the evening news when they should have really raised hell about that.”
The 'Afghanaheim' chapter is but one of twelve in the book. It will interest local readers the most, but the rest of Peace, Love and Pepper Spray powerfully displays a vibrant protest culture all too ignored, ridiculed and downplayed by media. Over 200 photos cover everything from foreclosure battles, the Chicago teachers' strike and keystone pipeline acts of civil disobedience.
“I want people to be able to pick up this book twenty years from and remember what was happening on the streets of the United States in this historically high time of protest,” Lyon says. “Protest is an effective form to induce change and I want this book to spread that message.”
Follow Gabriel San Román on Twitter @dpalabraz