'Always look them in the eye': Woman reveals powerful story behind viral protest moment

Nick Whigham
·Assistant News Editor
·4-min read

A young woman has described what was going through her head as she stared into the eyes of an angry opponent during a tense moment in the midst of nationwide protests in the United States.

In a powerful encounter, black woman Samantha Francine stood her ground during a Black Lives Matter demonstration as an older man, who was reportedly angry about their protest, screamed and swore in her face.

Described by CNN as “a portrait of courage”, Ms Francine removed her sunglasses to look the irate man in the eyes as he bore down on her in his rage.

The woman had one thing on her mind as she face him down. Source: Facebook/Samantha Francine
The woman had one thing on her mind as she face him down. Source: Facebook/Samantha Francine

The incident took place in the small town of Whitefish, Montana, where Ms Francine was surrounded by other BLM protesters who chanted about the peaceful nature of their demonstration as the man continued his angry tirade.

After an image was posted to Facebook, the young woman explained how the words of her late father were ringing in her ears as the man challenged her.

“With everything going on I immediately just thought ‘wow, what a powerful photo’, then I realised it was me,” she wrote.

“The words are still hard to find, but I wanted to share the one thing that did go through my mind in this moment.”

Ms Francine grew up in Chicago and was raised by her single father who happens to be white.

“He taught us from a young age that things were going to be different for us just because of the colour of our skin,” she wrote.

“One of the things he use to remind us constantly was that ‘no matter the threat, always look them in the eye so they have to acknowledge you’re human’.”

Her father died sixteen years ago but she still carries this advice with her to this day.

“When I lifted up my glasses, he saw me. I saw him. He was acting out fear, I know that,” she said.

“I hold no malice in my heart for this man. I hope this moment will soften him.”

The man was eventually taken away by police and charged with disorderly conduct and will appear in court on June 17, CNN reported.

The man was later arrested. Source: CNN
The man was later arrested. Source: CNN

For many who witnessed the now viral images, it was a depiction of the vitriol and racial prejudice that still exists in certain communities in the country.

“This post captures a face of Montana that will be hard for other Montanans to face. It’s certainly hard for me. We tend to idealise the ‘live and let live’ ethic, and I have heard more than one Montanan say ‘I don’t see race.’

“But we always have had racism deep in our societal veins,” one person wrote.

Montana overwhelmingly voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 US federal election and is about 86 per cent white.

Over the weekend, protesters gathered outside the Missoula County Courthouse in the state to join in nationwide protests against racism and police brutality as demonstrations that have lasted for two weeks grew to their largest size yet.

Sweeping proposals to overhaul policing

With no sign of the civil unrest subsiding, real change is beginning to take place in pockets around the country.

Democrats in Congress are proposing an overhaul of police procedures and accountability in the wake of the mass protests sparked by the death of George Floyd who was killed while being taken into custody by police.

Protesters fill the streets of Philadelphia during Black Lives Matter protests. Source: Getty
Protesters fill the streets of Philadelphia during Black Lives Matter protests. Source: Getty

The party is now putting forth The Justice in Policing Act, which is among the most ambitious law enforcement reforms from Congress in years and confronts several aspects of policing that have come under strong criticism during the protests.

The package limits legal protections for police, creates a national database of excessive-force incidents and bans police choke holds, among other changes that, if enacted, would have massive implications on policing in the US.

It’s not clear whether the legislation will pass, especially in an election year, but comes amid growing calls from protesters to “defund the police” – a shorthand for spending less on police departments and diverting the money to social programs that aim to prevent crime and help the poorest members of a community.

President Donald Trump has sought to style himself as a “law and order” leader and has criticised the package, claiming Democrats have “gone CRAZY.”

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