Editorials

Op Images: ‘Hug shared around the world’ offers hope for better days

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 protests 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 protests in Ferguson, Mo. The Associated Press

There is often one common denominator in stories that dominate the news: an iconic image that will always be associated with that event, a single image that triggers rage or calm, tears or laughter, sadness or joy.

Images that are seared in our memory: the fireman carrying the body of a child in the Oklahoma City bombing; the unclothed young girl racing from the flames of the napalm bombs in Vietnam; the burned bodies hanging from a bridge in Fallujah; the raising of the flag in Iwo Jima; the kiss in Times Square on V-J Day; the Challenger exploding; Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald; JFK Jr. saluting as his father’s casket rolls by.

For many of us these pictures are as fresh in our minds today as they were when we first saw them.

Thinking back over the past year, there are a number of pictures that will earn a place in this rare album: from the Ebola outbreak, the Sydney hostage showdown, the Islamic State threat, the cycle of violence across the globe, Ray Rice and his then-fiancée.

And especially one from the story of a 12-year-old African American, Devonte Hart, in a Portland, Ore., demonstration protesting the Ferguson, Mo., grand jury’s decision not to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

Devonte was wearing a Free Hugs sign around his neck and had been standing alone facing the police barricade before he met white police Sgt. Bret Barnum. Their interaction, uncomfortable at first according to Devonte’s mother, ended in Barnum asking for one of his hugs. Freelance photographer Johnny Nguyen captured the moment, a moment that went viral and, by the reactions, sparked the hope that someday we will “find the common good in all people.”

That someday Devonte will no longer struggle, as his mother wrote, “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.“

With a simple, everyday gesture, “the hug shared around the world,” as labeled by the Portland Oregonian, Devonte has shown us a path.

“And the wolf will dwell with the lamb, And the leopard will lie down with the young goat, And the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; And a little boy will lead them.”

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