Open California, Huntington Beach Protest by Casey DeCotis

A conversation with Casey DeCotis by Joshua Zamudio / Edited by Jenae Lien
Curated by Ron Kurokawa
Josh - Where are you from and how did you find photography?
Casey - I am originally from New York, came to California from Florida. I’ve been photographing for probably 20 years since college. I took some photography classes, fell in love, and have been doing it ever since, semi-professionally and professionally. Right now I work in Television Production. I’m a Camera Man and Assistant Camera Man, but never stopped doing photography. That’s something that, you know, once I picked up a camera - that was it. Been doing it ever since, everyday.
My father was a reporter, he’s retired now. I’m a 3rd generation Newspaper Kid in my family. My grandfather and my father were both writers. I worked at the newspaper that my father worked at for 13 years, but not as a photographer. I sold advertising. But I was doing photography the whole time. Then I got laid off and rehired. When I got rehired, the company had shed maybe 50% of its workforce. I was capable of doing photography, so I started doing a ton of photography for the newspaper that I worked at. I was surrounded by photojournalism as a kid. There’s a deep seeded love for that type of imagery from my past.
Josh - Describe your experience last Friday, May 1st. How did you hear about the protests at Huntington Beach? How did you get ready for the shoot?
Casey - Man, it was a shit show! I live in seal beach, so I am really close to Huntington. I woke up in the morning, started making some breakfast, made some coffee, threw on the local news and they’re like ‘protests in Huntington Beach!’ I think I had heard something about when they decided to do the beach closure, like the week before, they said they were going to close the beaches on May 1st in Orange County. So, I knew of it, but when I saw there was an actual protest going on, I was very curious to any chance I get to cover something, especially when I’m not working. Any chance I get to cover something, I’m on it. I was a little nervous, to be honest with you. I didn’t know exactly what to expect when I got down there. As soon as a got close to Huntington Beach, I was like ‘Oh, shit. This is for real.’ I could see people walking towards Main Street with signs. A lot of nonsensical signs. I can understand the frustration, I understand that. A lot of the signs that people were holding up were sensible-ish. Like, ‘Hey I’m a small business, I want to be open,’ kind of thing. But then you had your Quinon references, and a lot of fake news. Maybe 15-20% of the people were wearing masks. It was crowded. It was loud. People were driving by on their motorcycles revving their engines and everyone was like ‘Yeah! Yeah!’ It was more like a party, like a misguided party. I was conflicted being there to be honest with you. I knew that the images were important and I was happy to get them, and I always look forward to doing that type of work. But, half the time I was just shaking my head thinking, ‘What the fuck man, what is this? What are these people doing?’ Like I said, I get it. I get it to a degree, but the whole fake news side of it, and then showing up without masks, and hugging people, and not social distancing and screaming - shooting spit out all over, it was a little nerve wracking. A little freaky.
Josh - Was there anything that made you feel comfortable being in that situation?
Casey - Not much made me feel comfortable. A lot of the stuff that was alarming to me was the little kids. A lot of parents had their little kids dressed up, holding signs. Little kids, like 10-years old and 8-years old being indoctrinated into whatever their parents are into. That freaked me out a lot. I saw a little kid in a wheelchair, probably 8-years old, and he was crying. And he had a sign in his hand. The place was loud, people wanted to take pictures with the little kid, I didn’t want to get a picture of the little kid, I left him alone. He was crying, his parents were standing around, I can’t say that they weren’t paying attention to him, but he was upset. He’s a little kid. It was very, very loud and very crowded and he had a sign that said something like ‘I want to go back to school.’ What 8-year old wants to go back to school, right? I mean, maybe. The point is, is that he was very uncomfortable and upset, yet he was still there in a crowd of adults that were sweaty, loud, yelling, music playing. That upset me a little bit.
Josh - How do you think the response from the local PD was in controlling this situation?
Casey - The local PD, you probably saw it in the photos, right on the PCH, right on the pier, there was a line of horses. Mounted police. They were silent, they were quiet. They were just sitting, kind of a presence being there. Other cops were making sure that people were staying out of the streets. It was very professional as far as I look at it. People were free to protest, people were free to make noise and do what they want without any threat from the police, which I’m down with. There was one guy, standing in front of the row of horses yelling at the police ‘Yo this is not your job, get the fuck out of here, go home! This is America, we’re free to do what we want.’ Obviously you want the police there in case something goes bad. Crowd of angry people, you know. And there’s a woman next to him saying, ‘Dude, they’re doing their job, what’s the problem?’ It was interesting to see the different levels and different perspectives in the same crowd. Some people were angry at the cops from being there, not many. But some people were yelling at the cops, ‘Go home! Why are you here? This is not your job.” And other people were just there to protest and make noise and be like ‘Hey, I want to open my small business.’ The cops aren’t doing anything wrong. The cops are keeping us safe. I can’t say there was a lot of respect for the law enforcement that was there, but the law enforcement seemed to be doing a good job.
Josh - Was this the first incident you’ve documented since the Coronavirus?
Casey - I’ve been out shooting more, kind of scenery, interesting things that are not normal. Empty street kind of stuff. I was in downtown L.A and took some photos of people on the street corner, selling masks. Just weird instances like that. But that was the first protest that I’ve heard of that I was close to and could get to.
I’ll add one more thing. When I did these photos, I called my mother, and told her that I was a little conflicted and nervous about posting. I posted a set of photos on my Facebook. And I thought, man, I’m feel a little nervous about posting these up on Facebook. ‘Cause a lot of them are very Right-wing kind of style, and I grew up in Florida so I know a lot of people that are into that. And I was nervous about what kind of conversations it would cause on my Facebook, because I try and stay out of the politics. Man, I stayed out of the conversation, but the conversation happened. There’s a long string of comments, for and against, under the photos. And my photos were just the raw, ‘here’s what happened,’ and then boom, boom, boom people were just going off. So that was pretty eye-opening.
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All photographs owned and contributed by Casey DeCotis. 

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