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Photographer captures defining moment during Tampa protests

Douglas R. Clifford was one of dozens of Tampa Bay Times journalists deployed to cover demonstrations and mayhem.

Tampa Bay Times photographer Douglas R. Clifford took hundreds of pictures at a protest Sunday afternoon before heading to his vehicle to upload his images.

One of the photos he was about to forward to his editors would run small, deep inside the newspaper the next day. But he had nothing special to offer.

The protesters, however, weren’t finished. And neither was Douglas.

As he transmitted pictures from the driver’s seat shortly after 7 p.m., someone mentioned that a police car had been torched.

Douglas grabbed his gear and ran the two blocks back to E Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and N 22nd Street in Tampa.

No police car was burning. But a bonfire had risen in the intersection, fed by wooden fencing, a pallet and other scraps that protesters had heaped into a mass and ignited. Somebody threw an aerosol can into the blaze, setting off an explosion. Another protester hurled an orange traffic cone into the mix, creating a putrid mash up of burning wood and rubber. Black smoke filled the air.

“The scene was vivid,” Douglas recalled.

He always keeps a camera body with a long lens on his left shoulder and a camera with a wide lens strapped to his right.

As he was shooting the growing fire, a shirtless boy clad in a protective mask, ventured into the intersection for a moment.

That would turn out to be the moment.

“He was alone between the crowd and the fire kind of spinning on his toes taking it all in,” said Douglas, describing the child’s actions.

Our photographer knelt in front of him and took the picture with the wide-angle lens.

“He was a bit isolated for a moment, and I lucked into the frame,” Douglas said.

The result: A searing, unforgettable portrait.

The photo ran big on the front page the next day. It prompted tears from editors who saw it. It was shared widely on social media across the world and has been featured prominently by other news outlets as a defining image of protests amid a pandemic.

It was just one of the extraordinary images captured by our photojournalists in the field last weekend as protests escalated in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd.

Other notable photography and video came from Martha Asencio-Rhine, Luis Santana, Jennifer Glenfield, Scott Keeler, Dirk Shadd, James Borchuck and Octavio Jones with outstanding editing support from Boyzell Hosey, Chris Urso and Eli Zhang. Reporters and editors also filed photos, including our senior deputy editor for news Amy Hollyfield when she wasn’t overseeing coverage.

Nearly half our staff worked during the weekend. Reporters covering the protests and the aftermath in Tampa, Temple Terrace and St. Petersburg included Josh Fiallo, Dan Sullivan, Divya Kumar, Emily L. Mahoney, Zachary T. Sampson, Josh Solomon, Malena Carollo, Bethany Barnes, Monique Welch, Diana C. Nearhos, Charlie Frago, Joey Knight, Christopher Spata, Anastasia Dawson and Stephanie Hayes. Some of these journalists dodged rubber bullets and felt the effects of tear gas.

Other reporters made phone calls, took feeds from colleagues, gathered more information and wrote stories from their homes, where all our journalists have been stationed since mid-March. That group included Jay Cridlin, Mari Faiello, Kavitha Surana and editors John Martin, Tom Tobin, Chris Tisch, Jamal Thalji, Adam Playford, Ellen E. Clarke and Justine Griffin.

Our entire engagement team jumped in, ensuring that our work reached its broadest possible audience. Joshua Gillin, Ashley Dye, Bernadette Berdychowski, Meaghan Habuda, Thomas Bassinger and Allison Graves sent news alerts, crafted posts for social media, prepared newsletters and recorded audio. Carolyn Fox, our senior deputy editor overseeing the engagement team, helped keep the homepage fresh and our staff deployed. Our news editors and designers remade pages and juggled incoming stories. That team included Paul Alexander, Sean Kristoff-Jones, Horace Brooks, Mimi Andelman, Greg Joyce, Saleem Syed-Ali, Amanda DeArmon, Ron Borresen, Lisa Merklin, Sharon Fink, John Strickhouser and Roger Fischer.

It took teamwork and courage to bring our readers and viewers as close to the action as we could. More journalists have joined throughout the week. And it has been tense. Two Times reporters were zip-tied and detained early Wednesday morning when protests escalated in St. Petersburg and in Tampa. As working members of the media across the country are targeted, arrested or threatened by police and protesters, it has been an honor to watch our brave journalists deliver for you.

Mark Katches is the executive editor. He can be reached at mkatches@tampabay.com. Follow him on Twitter at @markkatches.

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