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Ruddy Roye recalls some of the people he met on this assignment: Baton Rouge, La: Cameron Sterling and his mother Quinyetta. Cameron, 15 years old, is posing with a composite image he made using a picture of himself and an old picture he had of his father. "The police took his phone so all the pictures he took are gone with his phone," he told me.Radcliffe Roye for TIME
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Ruddy Roye recalls some of the people he met on this assignment: Baton Rouge, La: Cameron Sterling and his mother Quinye
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Radcliffe Roye for TIME
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Lessons From a Tragic Month in America

As Radcliffe "Ruddy" Roye spent the last ten days crisscrossing America for TIME, documenting the mood of three cities—Dallas to Baton Rouge, La., and Minneapolis—thrown into the spotlight after a string of deaths, one emotion kept coming back: "There was a feeling of hopelessness that kept gnawing at me whenever I found myself documenting a story," the Brooklyn-based photographer says.

Roye came away with the feeling that there's still a "steep mountain to climb," he says, before the U.S. can make up "the ground that would lead to equality and reconciliation."

"I felt that people were more focused on distractions like color [than] the real issues in front of them," he adds. "Issues like neighborhood development; health, which includes mental health; drugs; prostitution; gun control; employment and poverty."

Roye's description of what he saw is of something that might be described as class warfare, an attitude that he says perpetuates the palpable divisions of American society, both within and between racial groups. "I get the feeling that there are some folks in our society that people see as 'untouchables,'" he tells TIME. "And although no one will come out and say it, if people are truly honest with themselves they will see that they do see and treat people differently depending on their class."

But, Roye also recorded moments of hope.

In Baton Rouge, he met two pastors who worked with ex-convicts to register them to vote. And he also met a couple, Mike and Jill Kantrow, who talked candidly about what it was like to raise their six children in this nation at this time—and was struck by how they were careful to make sure that their children encountered a diverse group of people in their lives.

"It was their way of reaching out and making sure they were raising their children to be aware and concerned about their surroundings," he says. "It was [also] their way of doing their part to help the community they were grew up in."

"We need more of this," adds Roye. "We need patrons, friends, support groups, people from the other side of the bridge who are willing to share their privilege."

Ruddy Roye is a documentary photographer based in Brooklyn. Follow him on Instagram @ruddyroye.

Marie Tobias, who edited this photo essay, is an Associate Photo Editor at TIME.

Olivier Laurent is the editor of TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @olivierclaurent

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