Young Ferguson Protester Offers ‘Free Hugs’ And A Police Officer Takes Him Up On It

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An emotional black boy stood at a Ferguson protest in Portland, Oregon holding a sign that read “Free Hugs” while crying. A white police officer on duty noticed him and took him up on the offer, creating an image that resonates with many who disagree with the grand jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson for his role in the death of Michael Brown.

12-year-old Devonte Hart, who is one of six children adopted by Sarah and Jennifer Hart, attended the protest with his family, armed with posters reading “Free Hugs” and “You Matter” in hopes of spreading good will. Being so aware of the world around you that you want to attend a political protest at the age of 12 in and of itself is pretty amazing, and is just another example of how this generation is doing so much more besides playing around on Instagram.

According to the Associated Press, Hart’s mother Jennifer wrote about her son’s emotional state on the day of the rally as follows:

Devonte was struggling. He wouldn’t speak. He was inconsolable … My son has a heart of gold, compassion beyond anything I’ve ever experienced, yet struggles with living fearlessly when it comes to the police. … He wonders if someday when he no longer wears a ‘Free Hugs’ sign around his neck, when he’s a full-grown black male, if his life will be in danger for simply being.

Reading Jennifer Hart’s words about her son and his fears makes my own heart ache. While I will never know what it’s like raising a black child in today’s society, or the grief of Michael Brown’s mother during all this, as a mom I relate to that feeling of wanting to protect your child but not knowing how, that desperate feeling of helplessness that comes with wanting to make sure they are forever happy and safe.

Portland police Sgt. Bret Barnum was assigned to control traffic for the protest. He saw how upset Hart was and invited him to come over to the police motorcycle.

Barnum spoke with the boy for a few minutes- they discussed school, what Hart did over the summer and his hobbies. Then Barnum noticed Hart’s sign and asked for a hug, resulting in the picture which has affected so many and spread like wildfire through social media.

Barnum was also moved by the encounter with Hart. “Knowing how he struggled with police, his bravery and courage to catch my eye and approach me were impressive,” Barnum said. “And it’s a blessing for me that I didn’t miss an opportunity to impact this child.” Barnum went on to say that his moment with Hart was about “listening to each other, facing fears with an open heart.”

I could go on talking about racism, our broken justice system and the need to have more media coverage of the positive stories like this one coming out of the Ferguson protests, but I won’t, because I feel like these images are far more eloquent than I can be. Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words.

(images via Twitter)