Viral Ferguson hug photo staged? That is the question many black people are asking days after the above touching photo of a white police officer hugging an emotional African-American boy went viral. Many are going as far as calling the image a white media propaganda to denigrate black protesters.
The photo was taken at a Portland, Oregon protest following the St Loius grand jury ruling that no criminal charges would be brought against Officer Darren Wilson for the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri this past summer.
The boy turned out to be 12-year-old Devonte Hart, who had attended the rally with his parents in support of peace and had been crying. He was holding a "Free Hugs" sign, and when Portland Police Sgt. Bret Barnum saw the boy's sign, he asked if he could have a hug. The boy gave him one, and the rest they say is now history.
However, as more details and other photos of the hug come online, many are beginning to question if there was an ulterior motive behind the original picture and why the media was so quick to circulate the photos.
Earlier, Devonte's mom Jen Hart had written on Facebook about the genesis of the photo, calling it, "one of the most emotionally charged experiences I've had as a mother."
"He trembled holding a Free Hugs sign as he bravely stood alone in front of the police barricade. ... After a while, one of the officers approached him and extended his hand. Their interaction was uncomfortable at first. ... [Then] he asked Devonte why he was crying. His response about his concerns regarding the level of police brutality towards young black kids was met with an unexpected and seemingly authentic (to Devonte), 'Yes. *sigh* I know. I'm sorry. I'm sorry.' The officer then asked if he could have one of his hugs."
It turns out that Jen Hart is a married white lesbian and her partner is also white while all their children are adopted and not caucasian. Many say the family and the cop in the picture are Darren Wilson supporters.
These details have angered many black commentators and led to heated debates on social media, mostly split along racial lines.
The debate started after another photographer, Alex Riedlinger, shared the two pics below from the same time, but before the viral picture, which he says was cropped to project spontaneity.
The Oregonian had reported that Barnum said he had no idea he was being photographed at the time the moment occurred, and when he saw the now viral photo of the moment the next day, he was blown away.
Alex Riedlinger two pictures tell a different story. In the first picture, Riedlinger says Devonte Hart is talking to his mother like she was coaching him before he approached Barnum and the second photo shows photographers preparing to snap the viral photo.
Riedlinger told Visionary Futures;
“The cropping of an image is everything when it comes to its subjectivity and the way ideas are projected unto it.
Every picture I’ve seen of this crops out the circus of photographers that surrounded these two creating a captive audience. With such a captive audience I can’t really say that the officer did anything that his superiors wouldn’t have told him to do. They were there just as much for public relations as to keep the peace otherwise the dept. wouldn’t have sent every queer looking, POC and female cop on the force.
The way this image has been propagandized is highly disturbing to me because it distracts from the real issues. This has never been about the relationship between individual officers and young Black men, but about the way in which our institutions and society protect cops, granting them license to use lethal force in ANY circumstance. Whether they do use it or decide to demonstrate “love” is irrelevant.’
I would like to add that Devonte was crying before approaching the officer while he was talking to his guardian, presumably because he was terrified. This brings the question of coercion to my mind, but I’ll let ya’ll debate over it.”
On Instagram, Abby Louvier defended the picture this way;
Another poster called out actress Meagan Good who had posted the earlier picture of the hug as a way to call for love and peace and this was her answer.
However, one of her followers countered in the comments;
good fix. But even the photographer says we've misconstrued the purpose and meaning of the photo. Also, hugs don't being back the dead. Beautiful, but still not a solution to the problem. Let's put some "love" in the policy. Some love in the way we see ourselves. This love needs to be bigger than police hugging children.
Photo Cedit - Johnny Nguyen/Facebook/theoregonian