(Reuters) - For Reuters photographer Lawrence Bryant, the events of last Sunday in St. Louis, Missouri, will make him especially vigilant the next time he goes out to cover anti-racism protests that are sweeping the United States.
In a series of dramatic pictures, Bryant captured a couple exiting their mansion carrying firearms which they waved towards the crowd, as they confronted demonstrators making their way to the mayor’s home nearby to demand her resignation.
The images, taken at close range, have featured prominently on news websites and in newspapers since they were taken.
Bryant, 45, recalled that on Sunday evening several hundred white and Black protesters walked through an open gate into the community where the couple - Mark McCloskey and his wife Patricia McCloskey - live.
They were met by Mark McCloskey holding what looked like an automatic rifle and shouting “get out!” several times at the crowd. In photographs and video footage of the incident, he wore a pink shirt, beige trousers and his feet were bare.
With places to take cover, Bryant said he was not overly worried at that point, even when the man appeared to cock his weapon.
Then Patricia McCloskey appeared from the front of the house holding a handgun. Bryant quickly became more concerned.
“She had her finger on the trigger and looked nervous and I became a little bit more worried, as there were kids out there and she was sporadically pointing the gun at random people,” he recalled.
“I just was trying to make frames. Trying to stay safe, trying to dodge the barrel of the gun and stay out of sight and out of line. I’m a big, Black man and I always have to pay attention to that anyway.”
The McCloskeys have said they feared for their lives on Sunday and that protesters damaged a wrought-iron gate at an entrance to the wealthy neighbourhood.
“Their actions were borne solely of fear and apprehension, the genesis of which was not race related. In fact, the agitators responsible for the trepidation were white,” their lawyer said in a statement sent to Reuters.
“The McCloskeys want to make sure no one thinks less of Black Lives Matter (protest movement), its message and the means it is employing to get its message out because of the actions of a few white individuals who tarnished a peaceful protest.”
Calls to phone numbers listed for the couple went unanswered, and their lawyer declined to make them available for an interview.
Kimberly Gardner, the city’s chief prosecutor, said she was alarmed by the videos and that her office was investigating.
“We must protect the right to peacefully protest, and any attempt to chill it through intimidation or threat of deadly force will not be tolerated,” she said in a statement.
The St. Louis confrontation has taken on added significance after President Donald Trump, who has already been accused by critics of stoking racial tensions in America, retweeted an ABC News video of the incident. He made no comment.
Bryant said he was pleased with the pictures he took.
On the one hand, he would have liked a longer lens to be able to zoom in on the man and the woman. On the other, the fact that he only had one camera with him meant he captured not just the McCloskeys, but also the protesters around them.
“A lot of the photos out there focus on them holding the guns, but to me that’s not telling the whole story,” he said.
“I wanted to show there were people protesting peacefully and they came to engage them.”
Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Writing and editing by Mike Collett-White