There’s a photo that’s gone viral of a young boy hugging a police offer at a Ferguson protest in Portland. The Oregonian dubbed it “The Hug Heard Round the World”. Others, including myself, are not so impressed.
Exploring the context behind the picture, its not as sweet as some would like to believe. The 11 year old boy, Devonte Hart, was attending a protest and held up a “Free Hugs“ sign. The police sergeant approached him and asked for a hug. (I wonder what kind of pressure the boy was under to consent to the hug in front of a crowd.) Its also worth noting that credible information is circling that the hug was staged, and that Hart has been used by his white parents to further a “color-blind” agenda. Its also surfaced that the police sergeant, Bret Barnum, is a supporter of Darren Wilson. Not very heart-warming.
The picture shows the officer hugging the boy as he bursts into tears. I don’t think that its cause for celebration that, at best, an 11 year old was so burdened with the horrors of police brutality that he sought comfort from a police officer, who essentially is the embodiment of the oppressive system that spurred these protests in the first place. I think that that in itself is tragic. I also don’t think that the office should be applauded for showing a small kindness to a child. He has sworn to serve and protect, after all.
The protest in Portland, like many that have broken out throughout the country, is happening because a teenager, Mike Brown, was shot and killed by then-police offer in Ferguson, Missouri. He was left dead in the street for hours. Three months later, after a painful-to-watch grandstanding from an obviously biased prosecutor, it was announced that the grand jury did not opt to indict Darren Wilson for killing Mike Brown. It’s a cry to end the patterns of police brutality, and unprotected killing of black bodies that have plagued this country for hundreds of years.
In recent days, many people on social media have posted, tweeted, and remarked on the picture. After being bombarded with this image repeatedly for days, and looking at the ensuing commentary, I want to scream “That’s not how it works. That’s not how any of this works!”
When I think of the police, I don’t see that picture. I see Mike Brown lying dead in the street for hours. Tamir Rice, a child who died after he was refused medical assistance after he was shot within seconds. Aiyana Stanley-Jones, a child who was fatally shot while she slept in her bed. The manslaughter charge against the officer who killed her was dropped. Eric Garner, choked to death because he was selling loose cigarettes. Anyone victim of police brutality listed on this website. (https://www.facebook.com/KilledByPolice). A black American is killed by the police or vigilantes every 28 hours. I was a teenager when Amadou Diallo was brutally murdered by the NYPD. They, of course, were acquitted.
I still think of how he suffered when I see the police, 15 years later. I cannot think of the police without thinking of these victims of police violence. Those images never go away. To think that those images will be erased by a picture of a policeman hugging a boy is insulting and reductive. When someone insists on sharing that picture, its telling me “I know that you’re caught up in this whole Ferguson thing, but it makes me uncomfortable to think about, so here’s a picture of a cop hugging a black kid”.
Am I saying that all cops are bad? No. Do I think that all cops voluntarily work in an oppressive system that results in unnecessary abuse and/or killings? Yes. And because of that I will always be wary of the police.
It speaks volumes that of all the iconic photos that have come from the Ferguson protests that this is the one that so many insist on circulating. People who have for the most part kept silent. By bringing up the “notallcops” argument when people are expressing their righteous grief, fear, and anger over this is derailment and downright abusive. Its going to take a lot more than a hug to make us forget this.