I don't do protests much anymore. This rally, in Portland, seemed a place to be with my camera. The country is divided and yelling out for justice. So, on this cool, dark afternoon, I went to the Justice Center in downtown to see what was happening. I stayed on the perimeter of the rally... shot a few iPhone photos and sent them off via instagram. I was looking for some authentic moments... maybe not just the usual activists holding the usual signs.
I spotted this small boy with his siblings off to the side holding signs which offered hugs. This was a very sweet thing to see but then I noticed the boy was overcome with tears. I watched as a woman (soon I found out she was his mother) urged him thru the crowd and toward the police officers parked with their motorcycles on the street. The boy, Devonte Hart, was overcome with tears and a few passersby took him up on his offer of hugs. But he seemed focused on the officer and frightened. The officer, Bret Barnum, finally called him over and asked him some questions... they were having a special moment. Finally, Officer Barnum, asked Devonte why he was crying... Devonte said he was concerned about the level of police brutality towards young black kids. The Officer said "I know, I'm sorry, I'm sorry"
Then they exchanged a hug. Not one for the media cameras (even tho I was there as well as another photographer) but a heartfelt moment that was a bright spot in this radical world looking for change.
But here in this image, I took, I believe is the real representation of where we are as a country. A frightened, weeping, young black man wanting some comfort and support from a looming, scary officer. It represents, at least to me, how extreme tension and division still lives in our American psyche. How far we have to go. How FAR we have to go.
The elevating of "THE HUG" photo to some sort of healing iconic place and the players in the photo (the boy, the cop and the photographer) to celebrity status only serves as a distraction or "happy ending" to the ongoing strife. It does not allow us to truly look inside ourselves and force the change.
Some background on the boy...
Devonte's adoptive mother told me Devonte had lived a most horrible early life of drug houses, social services and abuse. His story had been highlighted before on the Huffington post... Quoting them here:
"By the time he was four years old he had smoked, consumed alcohol, handled guns, been shot at and suffered severe abuse and neglect.
He knew only a handful of words, including fuck and shit, and he struggled to identify with the names of food, body parts and everyday objects. Devonte was a violent toddler and his health was weighed down by a heavy list of disabilities.
It was a life with little hope and a future that seemed over before it began."
In communicating with Devonte's parents, I see that he has no desire to be famous. I never felt that when Devonte's mother urged him to talk to the officer it was for any purpose other than for Devonte to heal and walk thru his fear. I have been touched, greatly, by the solid focused values of this family but conversely have watched in sadness as a single photo has been used to make our collective selves feel better rather than make a change.
More images I took from the rally. HERE