Whitefish woman who stared down angry man in viral photo wanted him to acknowledge her humanity

Whitefish protester who stared down angry man in viral photo wanted him to acknowledge her humanity
Posted at 2:16 PM, Jun 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-10 09:38:23-04

A photo of an angry man looking directly into the eyes of a peaceful woman protester in Whitefish, Montana, went viral earlier this week. The woman staring back at him, Samantha Francine, told CBSN she can't believe the powerful image is of her.

"I was like, oh, my gosh — that's me in that photo. And a lot of comments that came after that were like, 'Can you believe this picture is in 2020?'" Francine told CBSN's Vladimir Duthiers.

"With everything going on I immediately just thought 'wow, what a powerful photo,' then I realized it was me," she wrote on Facebook.

"This looks like this is — should be in the Civil Rights Movement. Why is this happening now? I wish I didn't have to be in that photo. I wish that the world was different. But since I'm in that photo, I want to own it. And I want to live it," she told CBSN.

The photo was taken when the man, later identified by police as Jay Snowden, 51, accosted a group of Black Lives Matter protesters and began shouting profanities. A video of the incident shows Snowden yelling into the faces of protesters until finally being guided away by a police officer.

When he approached Francine she raised her sunglasses, forcing Snowden to look into her eyes. She said she wanted him to acknowledge her humanity.

"The words are still hard to find, but I wanted to share the one thing that did go through my mind in this moment," she wrote on Facebook. "As a child, I grew up with a single white father and who was originally from Chicago. He taught us from a young age that things were going to be different for us just because of the color of our skin. 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.'"

She wrote that her father passed away 16 years ago this month, but that his words were in her head when she was confronted with this moment. "When I lifted up my glasses, he saw me. I saw him. He was acting out fear, I know that. I hold no malice in my heart for this man. I hope this moment will soften him. I hope he will be changed. But even if he isn't, I am."

Francine grew up in Whitefish and while she's experienced many positive things in the resort town, she told MTN News that she often met with painful discrimination. "The first time I remember being called the "n word" I was seven years old," said Francine. "I wasn't invited to all of the birthday parties because some parents were uncomfortable with my presence."

Francine added that she struggled with her identity in a predominantly Caucasian community. She even changed her appearance to try and fit in more. "I started to make myself less African American I started to straighten my hair, you know, chemically straighten it regularly. Dyeing my hair. I tried dyeing my hair blond one time," she said. "I went through periods of where I would try to starve myself so I would more thin, less curvy. “And then, when people would talk about the African American community in a negative way I wouldn't speak up or I would agree in a sense so they would feel more comfortable around me."

Following Floyd's death, she knew she had to be a voice for her community to enact change. "So, I do want to be a part of the community," Francine said. "I do want to be out so that there is somebody to look up to, an example. Someone you can recognize and identify."

Video shared on Facebook by one of the demonstrators show Snowden yelling obscenities at the protesters and getting within an inch or two of the faces of some of them. This lasted for more than two minutes, during which time the demonstrators continued chanting "Peaceful!"

Police intervened and escorted him from the scene. Snowden was charged Thursday with one count of disorderly conduct. Police consulted with the city prosecutor in determining how to charge Snowden.