Through My Eyes Big Update
Let’s catch up!
The first of many blogs to come – catch up on where we have been and what’s next!
Where do I even start this entry? It has been two years since Through My Eyes came into existence. We had no idea we would be faced with so many obstacles and struggles to put us on a positive track forward. This is due to our own learning curves and the fellow nonprofits trepidation towards partnerships and collaborations. We have taken every interaction as a chance to learn and grow. Our mission was never louder than when the media started a constant fed on the Migrant Caravan. With the help of Fed the Scene, we left for Mexico to work with Asylum Seekers. What came of that is a whirlwind of chaos that brings us to this post.
Working with Asylum Seekers
Good Intentions and Government Watchlists
Starting our work with Asylum Seekers:
Through the assistance of Feed the Scene and friends, I raised money to travel to Mexico on December 2, 2018. On December 3, I eventually arrived in Tijuana, Mexico at El Barratel, a make-shift shelter for migrants who had traveled in the caravan and arrived at the United States-Mexico border. The shelter, on the grounds of a shuttered nightclub, opened after a previous shelter at a sports complex became too unsanitary to house people.
When I arrived, I met with the Mexican government officials stationed at El Barratel. They provided me with a formal credential that allowed unrestricted access to the shelter. From December 3 until December 29, I lived in the shelter as a credentialed humanitarian volunteer, helping with all aspects of the shelter’s operation, interfacing with the Mexican government, assisting migrants with basic needs, and working on the Through My Eyes Foundation project. I coordinated and inventoried donations to the shelter, including: water, socks, undergarments, and kids’ toys. I also assisted with food donations, janitorial services, and coordinating volunteers arriving at the shelter to assist the families staying there.
The immediate humanitarian needs became a top priority as I formed friendships and shared stories with those seeking asylum. The mission never went off track, and had no nefarious underlying goals. The US government thought otherwise as they compiled a list of humanitarians and journalists working with Asylum Seekers.
Documenting Border Crossing, Stolen Media, Government Watchlist:
On December 29th, the Mexican government officials who had previously credentialed me abruptly informed me that they were removing my access privileges, thereby preventing me from living and helping there. Despite an outcry from migrants at the shelter and other volunteers who had come to rely upon my support, the officials insisted on the revocation.
After I was forced out of the shelter, I found a place to stay with other humanitarians who were donating their time to assisting refugees and migrants. It was there that on News Year’s Eve I was alerted to Asylum Seekers gathering to cross the border wall and beg for asylum.
I did not immediately react to the news. It was just after midnight that I made the decision that it would be best for me to be present to document the events. With cameras at the ready, I showed up at the location and surveyed the scene. I walked down the slope towards the border wall when CBP fired the first tear gas canister over the wall at the people gathered. I was no more than 10 feet from where it landed. At this point, only a few asylum seekers were helping some get over the wall, putting their hands over their heads and asking for mercy and asylum.
More border patrol and military showed up. They launched a volley of tear gas onto Mexican soil. As the Asylum Seekers retreated in fear towards the highway behind us, the government launched tear gas over our heads towards the direction they were fleeing. I stood my ground atop a hill and captured it all on camera. With plumes of tear gas enveloping the area, purply laster and strobes were flashed at us all, high-velocity non-lethal bullets were sprayed at those fleeing for safety. I was off to the left of where the Asylum Seekers were fleeing from. Tear gas was fired in my direction, followed by the non-lethal rounds fired directly at me.
I was shot three times in a span of 6 seconds before being forced to retreat myself. The first shot grazed my right shin, the second connecting with the inner left knee. It was the third shot that caused me to stop recording and flee towards safety. The third shot hit me just an inch and a half to the left of my groin. In the video, you hear an audible sound of pain escaping my throat as I turn around. The CBP released an official statement the next morning that they only fired 3 tear gas cans and on US soil only. My videos and photos were direct proof that it was a blatant fabricated lie from them.
To exacerbate the entire situation, my photos and videos from that event were stolen by Seattle Antifascist Action Group and Storyful, a sibling company of New Corp and the Rupert Murdoch family group. They distributed my videos to news media around the world while crediting the Seattle Antifascist Action Group (a Seattle based facebook group for Antifa people within the Seattle region). Suddenly, my media was everywhere tying me to a group on the other side of the country that I had nothing to do with. They ignored my attempts for contact and my demand for a cease and desist until one of their clients reached out to them about me saying it was my intellectual property. I demanded my videos be taken down from all sites.
I had asked for an immediate retraction from Storyful, to which they ignored. To this very day, 9 months later and counting, my work is still up on some of their client’s sites with credits to Seattle Antifascist Action Group. Storyful’s Editor-in-Chief, Darren Davidson, has been in limited contact with m. He ignored the demand for a retraction and said they are of zero blame in this matter. While I am now being tracked by my own government as a suspected Antifa/Organizer, they said it is not of any fault of theirs. Furthermore, they said they would give me $5,000 if I agreed to not speak anymore about what they did, or go after the clients that used my copyrighted intellectual property.
This brings me to what happened with the government. They had created a secret list of humanitarians and journalists that were working with Asylum Seekers. Tom Jones of NBC7 in San Diego ran a story on a leaked list by Homeland Security. Of the 59 people on that list, I am the only one listed as Antifa/Organizer. This aligns with what happened to my credentials being pulled at the shelter and being detained for several hours while trying to cross the border.
I was lost in a disastrous mess that stemmed from Through My Eyes just wanting to put cameras into the hands of Asylum Seekers so they could tell their stories. That is when Mohammad Tajsar and Casey Kasher of ACLU created a line of contact with me and became our heroes.
On July 23, after months of work, they filed a lawsuit against Trump officials. I had already returned back home to Richmond, Virginia in February to make sense of all that had happened and get back to our work. It has taken until now to finally make our return. I am sitting here in Austin, Texas as I write this. With a team formed and a renewed spirit, we are returning to our work with Asylum Seekers on a much larger scale. The government list still exists and what will happen the moment I cross the border is unknown as of yet…but we move forward still. Humanitarian Aid Is Not A Crime!
It is not clear to what extent Storyfuls actions are tied in to all that has befallen me. I am not speaking ill of the Antifa movement. This is an account of what all happened and for you to decide.
Now that we are caught up to the present moment, what is our next move?
Along the Border: Migrantes Valientes
Along the Border: Migrantes Valientes is an expansive project that combines the efforts of all humanitarian aid along the border. As what has transpired since we left to work with Asylum Seekers is larger than just us, we believe it is of the utmost importance to lift up the voices of Asylum Seekers and Humanitarian Activists alike. This is best explained by breaking it down into four distinct obejectives:
- Provide direct humanitarian aid to the Asylum Seekers and Indigenous peoples along the border.
- This will be achieved by volunteering our time with the nonprofits/humanitarians we partner with. In turn, this means our work will vary along the entire project according to those we volunteer with.
- We will interview via video blog and podcast with the directors of these team afterward. This gives us the ability to experience the work they do firsthand and offer a fluid conversation.
- Put cameras into the hands of the Asylum Seekers and mentor them on how to create their own journalistic documentary footage while also filming our own media. This will be combined to create a feature-length documentary.
- As the project is so encompassing and we will have a lot of video content, we will be creating a weekly video blog. This will include direct interviews with humanitarians along the border, as well as with Asylum Seekers and locals. These interviews will create a direct means of connecting donors with the various efforts along the border to drive donations directly to the causes of their choice.
- We will be hosting a podcast two or more times a week. Much like the video blog, this gives another media format to reach out to an ever-growing audience. Here, we can sit down and speak directly about the issues and efforts. This will highlight what is happening and increase the general public knowledge, in turn increasing donations and volunteers to the efforts they are drawn to.
Not included, but just as important, is that we will be creating and maintaining a blog of our project. Where we want the other media formats to be focused on the voices of those we are aiding and partnering with, this will give us the means to focus directly on our own views. Having multiple media formats is about accessibility and reach. This project is meant to lift up the voices of those we help and highlight the impactful work by humanitarian activists to drive their audience, volunteers, and donations up.
We will be creating a Patreon for those who wish to contribute in that format instead of traditional donations. We will also be creating a network and means to donate directly to the humanitarians we work with. This involves a system to search for aid impact based on location and means (legal, medical, donations, sponsorship, etc…) that links to their personal websites and social media pages alongside podcasts and video blogs are being created now. Donations are welcome to our efforts as well, but we do ask that the amazing people and efforts we are working with during this project take priority over donations to us. That is why we are creating a Patreon account.
Thank you so much for your support!