By CARISSA DEZ
Balancing a passion for social justice and equality as well as the commitment to bring honest and unbiased stories to the public can be a challenging task.
My path to becoming a freelance journalist without experience or formal education has been quite the adventure, and has convinced me to pursue journalism as a career.
I have been leading a double life. By day I run a small business. By night, I suit up for war-like conditions and film police and protesters going head-to-head. Juggling all of these responsibilities hasn’t been easy, but the experience has been fulfilling in ways I couldn’t have foreseen.
Getting to this point has been a truly strange and exciting journey. A fervor for equality led me to protest, but it was a thirst for knowledge and truth that led me to journalism. I started down a rabbit hole when I began filming, not knowing where or what it would lead to.
My Journey started at the end of May, after the death of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer. Like many other people, I watched with horror as Floyd struggled for and lost his life on camera. I was struck by the unnecessary and brutal treatment he received as a result of institutional racism and militaristic police tactics.
I felt compelled to do something about it. This feeling grew into a burning desire to go out and protest— even though I’d never marched, chanted, or waved a sign for a cause in my life.
After a couple of weeks of daily protesting, I started to keep a video and photo journal of the events I was witnessing. More and more, I saw this documentation becoming a way to record important events occurring at the protests that weren’t getting fair representation in mainstream media.
I took a video journalism class in high school and have dabbled in photography where I have enjoyed capturing intense and beautiful moments in life. However, livestreaming was something I had never done before May 2020.
When it became apparent that people were interested in watching my live videos in June, I made it my mission to film as often as I could so viewers could see what was happening with the Portland protests.
A 30-second video of a fire doesn’t tell a complete story. Many people watching from home wanted to make up their own minds about the protests that were happening in their cities, rather than solely listen to what mainstream media was telling them. So, I equipped myself with ballistic gear and set out with my new gimbal.
A chaotic scene
My first experience with the police declaring an unlawful assembly over the LRAD (long-range acoustic device) was on June 26, 2020.
I started the night off at the Multnomah County Justice Center where arguments were happening between groups. I was trying to decide whether I should go home or not when someone in my livestream comments let me know that I was needed to document at Portland Police Bureau’s North Precinct.
I was still planning on going home, but at the last minute decided to drive to the precinct out of curiosity.
Upon arrival, the scene was like that out of a movie. I saw large barricades in the streets that were on fire, a line of cops, and a line of protesters. I started filming as law enforcement officers shot pepper balls and flung gas canisters into the crowd.
Hiding behind trees and a bus shelter was working just fine for me until I saw Mid-K Beauty Supply store start on fire. I then heard someone yelling into a megaphone. They were asking why someone would light the building on fire, and told others to put the fire out.
I ran over and helped put out the fire by kicking pieces of garbage away from the Black-owned business. After myself and several others extinguished the fire, we walked off into the tear gas smoke.
Objectivity and action
June 26, 2020 was also the day I decided that I would work on being more objective in my commentary during my live videos.
While at the Multnomah County Justice Center (JC), I defended a young Black protest leader who was being yelled at by another group leader. Later in the night, I defended a protester when a woman came into the crowd and began yelling racial slurs at them.
I was getting threats throughout the night, and was almost jumped by an opposing group. By nature I am protective of others, and have found that there is a way to de-escalate a situation without being unprofessional.
A certain level of street smarts are necessary when filming at protests. There are certain things that you just can’t do if you want to stay safe as a livestreamer. I don’t get in protester’s faces with my camera unless they request an interview, I also don’t throw objects at the police.
My main goal has been to show people the truth. Focusing on the facts allows me to build trust in the community and allows my audience to come to their own conclusions based on facts.
I recently realized that I am not only passionate about social justice, but that I am also passionate about journalism.
I have read up on things such as journalistic integrity, and have listened to many podcasts about what it takes to be a great journalist. For me, it is important to stand up for what I believe in, but also make it my job to show the truth without adding too much of my opinion into the story.
Any good journalist is an activist for truth. We choose what to focus on, what to amplify, what to investigate and examine. The purpose of journalism is to raise the voices of people who may not have a voice. This doesn’t mean that a journalist should inject their personal views into a story.
For now, I am happy being an independent journalist while I learn and hone in on my strengths. I have found community within the group of livestreamers that cover the protests, and we all learn from each other.
We all have different styles, and look out for one another when we are filming. I have had offers to partner with teams and to sell my videos to mainstream media, but prefer to work independently so that I can have freedom to make my own decisions with how my work as a journalist develops.
Trip to the Nation’s capitol
A peak event from my journey was being a part of the March on Washington 2020 at the end of August.
I woke up a few days before the event knowing that I had to make the trip. I was able to raise funds with the support of my community to film the event and related events in Washington D.C.
Next, I had to do some research to make sure it was okay to transport a gas mask and ballistic gear through airport security. I was worried about being in a dangerous situation after getting threats from viewers, so thought they were necessary for the trip.
It was so important for me to be a part of this historical moment that celebrated the 57th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech, at a pinnacle moment in the current social justice movement.
I had planned to livestream the entire event including speeches and the march from the Lincoln Memorial. It seemed everyone there had the same idea, and my cell service did not allow me to livestream for long.
I even ended up at the very front of the crowd with a close-up view of those giving speeches, but was disappointed that I couldn’t livestream so my audience could be there with me.
Luckily, I was able to take several photos and short videos to show what was happening around me. I soaked in the amazing speeches by Reverend Al Sharpton, Martin Luther King III, and more.
The sun was blasting down on the crowd that entire day, but I was determined to stay until the march ended at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. I ended the day with heat exhaustion, so I slept until the protest the following night.
Another life changing moment that occurred in D.C. was when I met Frank Nitty, the activist who walked with a group from Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Washington, D.C.
Frank Nitty and Carissa in Washington D.C.
The stars aligned and I was able to do an interview with Nitty and the family. After filming a historically Black colleges and universities march, a friend said that I could go and find Frank Nitty with him at a hotel.
Frank let us up to his hotel suite and started off by playing some piano for us on the baby grand piano looking over D.C. Frank told us about his travels and let us know about his thoughts on being an activist, and on the current protests happening on our streets.
Near the end of our interview with Frank, we were getting reports that D.C. cops were throwing munitions at protesters, so we headed down to the protests.
This was a normal sight for those down there that were from the Portland area. Officers were shooting munitions and were throwing smoke canisters at non-violent protesters.
Those there that I knew from Portland gladly stood on the frontlines of the protest, while locals didn’t seem to know what to make of the situation. This was only the second time in recent history where D.C. law enforcement have used munitions for crowd-control purposes.
While I was filming the D.C. protest, I was getting news in my livestream comments that someone was shot and killed in Portland near the protests.
Myself and others in D.C. from Portland were feeling guilty for not being there in Portland, and were emotionally distraught over the news. We didn’t know who had been killed, but we were all affected nonetheless.
Being in Washington D.C. for that whole experience allowed me to see everything that I had witnessed in the past couple months at protests and in social situations in a whole new light. Sometimes it’s nice to travel outside of your bubble to gain a broader perspective, and I’m glad that I took the trip.
One thing I realized was that it’s okay to stand up for one’s rights, even as an aspiring journalist. I accepted the fact that I am an advocate for social justice, as well as a reporter of truth. I stand up for civil rights, for press rights, for racial justice, for gender equity, and against economic inequality.
My goal has been to tell stories, and to be good and fair. Focusing on stories of marginalization, injustice, and oppression is crucial in creating an accurate depiction of the world.
As the movement has evolved and gone on for months in Portland, It has been more important for me to have a neutral voice in my reporting by not giving a political slant to the message. I don’t 100% agree with everything anyone is doing. There are so many voices out there, and like I’ve mentioned already, it is important to paint the whole scene instead of working to deepen the divide in our global community.
Carissa Dez is new to the journalism world, but is learning quickly as she works in the field. Carissa live streams events, edits video, writes, and uses photography to tell a complete story.
Connect with Carissa:
Twitter / Periscope: https://twitter.com/CarissaDez
Follow my Facebook page: DVMedia
Follow my Instagram: https://Instagram.com/carissadezlive
Visit my website (in progress): https//:dvm.media
Email me: firstname.lastname@example.org