Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Devonte Hart, Sgt. Bret Barnum, and the Hug Felt 'Round the World

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Devonte Hart, Sgt. Bret Barnum, and the Hug Felt 'Round the World

Article excerpt

It by no means marked the end of the Ferguson, Mo., aftermath, but for millions a candid image just raised a lot of hope for the future: A viral photo of a Ferguson-related protest in Portland, Ore., where a white police sergeant hugs a crying 12-year-old black boy offering "Free Hugs."

The fact that there's an incredible personal story behind the picture is yet another reason why the photo blew up on Facebook overnight, with hundreds of thousands of "likes" and its central subjects - 12-year-old Devonte Hart and Portland Police Sgt. Bret Barnum - instantly emblematic of an effort to heal in the aftermath of the Aug. 9 shooting of an unarmed teenager, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Mo.

Indeed, the emotional reaction to the photo - inevitably, a tear- stained smile, unless one's heart is a rock - suggests not just the power of the moment, which was by all accounts significant, but a small catharsis in what many call an ongoing national disaster - statistical, and sometimes deadly, discrepancies in how some police view young black men.

"My eyes have become faucets due to a little bit of sadness and a lot of hope," writes Erica Rosser, on Facebook.

As Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, who shot Mr. Brown, found out this week that he will face no criminal charges for shooting Brown, who some say had his hands up in surrender, the sometimes violent protests that have continued have led to soul- searching by Americans who watched the streets of Ferguson take on the specter of a war zone.

It was that tension that vibrated behind the picture, writes Jen Hart, Devonte's mom, on Facebook. Perhaps affected in part by his own straddling of the unresolved cultural tension between white and black cultures in the US, Devonte stood at the Nov. 25 protest with tears staining his jacket.

"It was one of the most emotionally charged experiences I've had as a mother," writes Jen Hart, his mom. …

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