150K Facebook posts in, “the hug felt around the world” turns out to be nothing more than a PR stunt to try and calm national outrage sparked by Darren Wilson not being indicted.
It seemed like the entire premise of Different Strokes and a sugar-coated Hollywood production on race relations all wrapped into a warm and fuzzy shot – just too good to be true. Devonte, a frightened 12-year-old Black boy is embraced warmly by Brett Barnum, a white police officer, “just doing his job”. Just as Devonte wonders why he lives in a world that hates him, because of the white officers color-blind gesture, he (and we) were reassured that things really aren’t that bad. Good cops do exist. Some of them even happen to hug little Black boys in their time of need.
It might’ve capped up people searching for a distraction from the real issue of institutionalized racism and police brutality, but everything about this picture screamed fake, from the awkward hug to the media shoving it down our throats in a time of mass protests. And now there’s evidence to prove it was more than likely staged.
As the story goes, a freelance photographer and student from Portland name Johnny Nguyen happened to stumble upon this Kumbaya moment of humanity while in Ferguson and captured it just in time to remind the world that “Hey, all white cops aren’t bad, see!” Looks can definitely be deceiving, though. With a little editing and cropping, you can easily change or leave out the full context of the situation. According to Alex Riedlinger, another photographer who was present that day, there are important details purposely being left out.
Check out what Riedlinger told to Visionary Futures:
Here are the images of Devonte I took. The first depicts him and his guardian just prior to him approaching the officer, in my mind she seems to be coaching him though the picture does not imply this. The second was taken just before the hug and you can see as a crowd and captive audience is starting to form.
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.
Also, it’s important to note that Devonte is one of six children adopted by Jennifer Hart, who is white. She posted on Facebook that Devonte struggles with “living fearlessly when it comes to the police and people who don’t understand the complexity of racism that is present in our society”. So there’s a chance this was her way of trying to prove otherwise to Devonte.
Whoever is responsible for coercing this moment, I don’t need any more convincing that it’s being used to deflect from what people are enraged over: The constant murder of unarmed Black men at the hands of law enforcement, with no repercussions. This photo made me cringe from day one. The boy looks so uncomfortable and it reeks inauthentic. Of all the times to reach out to a cop for comfort, a rally against police brutality is like … c’mon son. Nothing more than damage control to try to calm the uproar being ignited across the country. It’s disgusting that this Black child’s image has become a tool of distraction for mass media’s propaganda, when the sad truth is that the rally he was attending could’ve easily been for him.