Ever frog-march a grieving family to their car? I have - and on occasion, felt bad about it. The latest case occurred on Friday, when some (super) friends of mine at the Hall of Justice needed help covering the door. For two weeks live trucks of every stripe squatted on the lawn of that Winston-Salem structure as a high profile murder trial roiled inside. It's a sad circus I avoided joining, until a late Thursday verdict set the stage for some end of the week sentencing. Our crack bureau crew was all over it, but between manning the pool camera and making dubs, they were a little short in the door department. Thus I was summoned to The Dash to practice a not so sacred act of lenslinging. See, if you wear a camera on your shoulder you gotta be prepared to point it at anything. That includes schisms, collisions and its staggering parade of victims. I don't enjoy running people down, I'd rather lift them up. But if the light was right, I'd browbeat a mime troupe 'til I captured a reaction. But Friday's assignment demanded no such TMZ; it simply required balance, situational awareness and comfortable shoes. It could be called 'afflicting the stricken'. I like to think of it as The Courthouse Swarm.
When the family stepped off the ground floor elevator, I was plastered to the glass outside. Unsure as to just who might emerge, I scanned the crowded lobby for familiar forms, openly profiling faces for signs of distress. One look at the clutch of loved ones shuffling toward the door told me these were indeed persons of interest. Perhaps it was their body language. They were, after all, holding each other up. No doubt they were the defendant's kin; cousins and such of a young man just given 16-21 years in a case that left a local policeman dead. Now they were headed my way and the very sight made my trigger thumb itch. As they pushed on the door, I raised my glass and felt the presence of other cameras around me. From there, time slowed and I struggled to fit them all in my tiny TV screen. At first they didn't say a word, choosing instead to stare right through the pack of jackals backpedaling before them. I too was silent, closing in all quiet-like for a tight-shot before scampering ahead of them for a complimentary wide. All around me, other lenses did likewise, until passers-by paused to see who the cameramen were chasing. I would have stopped to tell them, but I didn't know where to start.
So I stayed in close pursuit, until the man in brown started to talk. To be fair, he was speaking to my competitor, but I didn't let the lack of invite stop me from sticking my lens into the chit-chat. Hey, all's fair in love and on the courthouse steps. While we stood there, other cameras caught up, until the man who called himself the family's Bishop had a small congregation. 'God ALWAYS has a plan' I can still hear him say, but the real muscle memory is saved for one of the lady's at the center of the pack. Bent at the waist and short of voice, the defendant's grandmother answered the reporters' queries with a throat ravaged from regret. 'The truth will come out!" she said with a tone that made me think she believed it. When asked about the slain cop's family, the old woman blanched the way my own Grandmother would. "We've said from the beginning how sorrowful we was!" When a reporter threw another question her way, she threw her hands up and declared she 'was through'. With that, her family dragged her toward a waiting car and as I watched her through my viewfinder, my own heart ached for the old woman's loss...
It would have hurt a lot worse had I missed the shot.