Photo of boy hugging officer at Ferguson protest goes viral

Portland police Sgt. Bret Barnum, left, and Devonte Hart, 12, hug at a rally in Portland, Ore., where people had gathered in support of the protesters in Ferguson, Mo.

Portland police Sgt. Bret Barnum, left, and Devonte Hart, 12, hug at a rally in Portland, Ore., where people had gathered in support of the protesters in Ferguson, Mo.

While imageries of riots and anger dominated the photos coming out of the Ferguson protests in Missouri, one photographer managed to snap a moment with deep contrast to the prevailing frustration.

Freelance photographer Johnny Nguyen’s picture of a teary 12-year-old African American boy being embraced by a white police officer has gone viral on social media.

The photo has been shared more than 400,000 times on Facebook and has been reposted on more than 68,000 Tumblr accounts, Nguyen said.

“It was an interesting juxtaposition that had to be captured. It fired me up,” he told the Huffington Post news website.

Hart was holding a sign that read “Free Hugs,” when he was reportedly called over by the police officer for a conversation about the things that ranged from the protest, to school to life.

The officer, which The Oregonian news website identified as Portland Police Sgt. Bret Barnum, then asked Hart for a hug, a moment Nguyen described as “powerful.”

“I started shooting and before I knew it, they were hugging it out. I knew I had something special, something powerful,” he said.

“I’ve been told this photo has become an icon of hope in regards to race in America.”

For Nguyen, the photo marked the first display of “something positive” to come out of Ferguson.

“I would scroll through the Internet and see the photos of images out of Ferguson, which all showed some violence and anger — some even to the point of hatred and destruction. This was the first photo I saw that showed something positive. It showed humanity.”

In a Facebook post after the protest, Hart’s parents revealed the series of events that led to what has become the iconic photo.

“My son has a heart of a gold, compassion beyond anything I’ve ever experienced, yet struggles with living fearlessly when it comes to the police and people that don’t understand the complexity of racism that is prevalent in our society,” Sara and Jen Hart said.

“It was one of the most emotionally charged experiences I’ve had as a mother.”

 
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