Portland, Oregon. Devonte Hart is the 12-year old boy pictured hugging Sgt. Bret Barnum. Hart and his mother were attending a rally in support of Ferguson when Barnum saw him holding a “Free Hugs” sign. According to the officer, the rally had been completely peaceful, but when he noticed Devonte crying, he called the youth over to see what was wrong.
The young man expressed concerns over police brutality and the two engaged in a conversation witnessed by Hart’s mother and later recounted on her Facebook page. In this moment, an honest dialogue was opened between a man, who happened to be a police officer, and a boy, who happened to be black. When the two developed a rapport, the officer then asked for one of Devonte’s free hugs.
Officer Barnum relates that he saw Hart’s mother snapping photos, but he was unaware anyone else was even paying attention. He seemed genuinely shocked that the photo later went viral. What this demonstrates, however, is that progress has been made and can be made between law enforcement and the black community.
Why did this precious child have an irrational fear of police brutality? An irresponsible media and members of his own ethnic community perpetuate the myth that a black kid cannot and will not be treated by police with respect. At least for Devonte, that myth has been busted.
Expressing that his job on the day in question was merely to participate in a minimal police presence to ensure traffic flow and public safety, Sgt. Barnum did not seek any recognition for the job he was doing. In his statement, however, he mentioned that what he did is just what police officers do. By reaching out to this young man in an effort to understand his distress, he was captured taking a step toward repairing much of the damage done by those who seek violence and destruction in the black community. This picture is worth more than a thousand words, it is an image of hope.