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Joining Forces With Black Lives Matter Protesters As A Person Of Color

Reno resident Rajid Selim decided to photograph the events that occurred in Reno last weekend: both the peaceful protest against police brutality and the rioting that followed. He shares his account of those events as well as previous experiences of racism he has endured. As a warning, this story contains offensive racial slurs as well as accounts of rioting and may not be suitable for all listeners and viewers.

First Encounter

Rajid Selim’s family is from Bengali and he was born in Reno. During his first year at Robert McQueen High School, he experienced being racially discriminated against for the first time.

“I can't remember his name or face. He just came up to me and started pushing me around, calling me ‘sand nigger’ and calling me a ‘rag head,’ a terrorist, and I didn't know what to say. I just had never experienced anything like that in my life before,” Selim said. 

He says being southern Asian is easier; he describes himself as a chameleon being able to blend in, unlike the black Americans who he photographed in solidarity, during last weekend’s protest against police brutality.

“I just want to make it clear that my experiences in no way reflect the black experience [in America] because I think mine can't compare to theirs. I mean, for me, everyone's always talking about, you know, how can you contribute? And I'm not black, so I could never speak to the depth of what black people go through in this country, but I felt as if I went [to the Black Lives Matter protest in Reno on May 30] and I took some photos of a little bit of context, [then] those could speak for itself. It could have been my way of contributing to what people are fighting for, to capture the people who are fighting systemic racism.”

The Black Lives Matter Protest in Reno

Selim packed his camera bag and headed to downtown Reno.

“It started with the young female leaders of Black Lives Matter and they're saying, ‘This is not going to be violent. We're here to fight something else,’ and the young leaders at Black Lives Matter said, 'If you see some of the dissenting opinions, create a dialog--speak with them.' "

After several hours, he went home excited to edit photos but noticed something that took him by surprise. The peaceful protest he had just photographed a few hours earlier wasn’t flooding the streets of Reno anymore; instead, he says a new group of people were destroying his hometown.

“Next thing you know, I see City Hall on fire. I check my tweets and people are saying, 'blur these faces,' and, you know, I posted those pictures trying to show the people behind it doing the good things. The situation changed drastically.”

Despite his girlfriend’s advice not to go back out, Selim repacked his camera bag and went downtown for the second time in one day.

“The first thing I saw was a girl with a broken leg, wearing a cast, limping, holding on her friend, crying. I asked, ' What happened?' She said, ‘I got tear gassed.’ So, I took her photo. She let me. As I got to the bridge, I kept walking towards it and then I see a whole crowd running towards me and tear gassed.”

A Full 180

Selim says he immediately noticed a difference in the environment. He says the voices he heard from earlier, the voices who were speaking against systemic racism and preaching policy change, were nowhere to be found because, well, they were against violence.

“It was hard to see, that type of violence going down. It felt like a movie. Hearing helicopters and people screaming and a motorcycle’s revving the engines, hearing tear gas--I've never seen that in my life; I'm only 21 years old,” he said.

Selim says what he saw after the Black Lives Matter protest in Reno is an image that will be burned in his memory forever, but he hopes his photos can help tell a bigger story of working in solidarity with the black community fighting systemic and racial injustices.

Stephanie Serrano (she/her/ella) is an award-winning multimedia bilingual journalist based in Reno, Nevada. Her reporting is powered by character-driven stories and is rooted in sound-rich audio. Her storytelling works to share the experiences of unserved communities in regards to education, race, affordable housing and sports.
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