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Omari Salisbury Bears Witness to Seattle’s Season of Protest

“Time and time and time again, the journalist hat came off.”

By Allison Williams September 29, 2020 Published in the Fall 2020 issue of Seattle Met

For Omari Salisbury, documenting a revolution took two things—an old red iPhone, and scrappiness earned working media outlets in Eastern Africa and around the globe. The father of three, raised in the Central District, had returned to his home city and launched his own media company, Converge, plus a morning news show for the Black community. But when downtown protests broke out on May 29, he had only a half-charged cell phone to stream the turmoil. In the months that followed, Salisbury delivered it raw to viewers around the world—the chants, the crowds, the tear gas, the shootings. His camera was inches from the infamous umbrella-snatching at the Capitol Hill barricade. A natural peacemaker, Salisbury even turned his empathetic lens to Seattle Police despite his own complicated history; as a teenager he and his activist mother sued over his treatment by the SPD. In redefining on-the-ground journalism, Salisbury has become the chief witness of Seattle’s historic season of protest. —AW

The first night I went live, I had like 60 people watching, which was amazing. I don’t know if my mom went and got 60 phones or what [laughs]. Next thing I know it’s four, five, six thousand people on the stream.

I’ve never sold any of my footage. Being from Seattle and loving Seattle, it’s more important that the right story is told, to get the city that we deserve, than it is for me to provide content for sensationalism.

All those days when I thought that my career had run out of steam, I was just like, Let’s just do something every day. Every single day.

That’s what prepared us for this. That stamina, that African media-house work ethic. We didn’t have to ramp up for this.

White people need to do more than just hold a Black Lives Matter sign. They need to know, what are the exact issues in the Central District or the South End?

So many people in the CHOP had been marginalized their whole life. That’s why the public assemblies there were a big deal. For the first time, maybe ever, they mattered.

I’m definitely not a tough guy, but you know, fear and faith can’t live in the same house.

Time and time and time again, the journalist hat came off. There’s nothing wrong with being a citizen. The citizen who is out here to try to de-escalate, to keep people from killing each other. 

One day we formed a human barricade to stop kids from charging the police. These kids, 17, 18 years old—they looked like they were ready to go for it.

I think it surprised a lot of people, me being a Black kid from the Central District, who has a history here with police brutality. I love my city. Let’s de-escalate.

One day at the barricade on Broadway, the police were on one side of the crosswalk and protesters on the other. The chimichanga lady who’s there, she turns up her stereo playing Marvin Gaye, full blast.

For a few minutes there, you know, you could see the police kinda rocking along with the protesters. You just never know what de-escalation tactics might work. 

When Summer Taylor and Diaz Love were hit on the freeway…it was the most horrible thing you’ve ever seen. The first thing that I said is, I’m so glad I wasn’t livestreaming.

Emotions hit me more now because things are a bit slower. One of the skills I learned early on in this business was to be able to put everything in its own little box. 

I do know that sooner or later—hopefully sooner—that I gotta go unpack them boxes.

My mama says that forgiveness is giving up all hope for a better past. Man, I can’t change anything from yesterday.

People shouldn’t confuse funding social services with creating equity. Equity in [Black] ownership is something that will keep us…here in a few years.

We were never out here to be on the international news or national news. We were just out here so our people in our neighborhood could see what was going on.

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