Internet Turns on Once Beloved ‘Ferguson Hug’ Cop

Sgt. Bret Barnum hugs Devonte Hart at a Ferguson protest in Portland, Oregon.
Sgt. Bret Barnum hugs Devonte Hart at a Ferguson protest in Portland, Oregon. –Johnny Nguyen /AP

Sgt. Bret Barnum is a white Portland, Oregon Police Officer. Devonte Hart is a 12-year-old black boy who held a “Free Hugs’’ sign at a Ferguson rally in Portland. The two shared a hug. The pic went viral, hearts were warmed, healing (possibly) began.

But it’s never that easy.

It turns out that Sgt. Barnum clicked “like’’ on a Facebook post that showed a Portland Police badge emblazoned with the words “I am Darren Wilson.’’ The Portland Mercury wrote that Officer Strom is among several in the department who changed their Facebook profile pictures to Portland Police badges wrapped in “I am Darren Wilson’’ bracelets. Portland Police Chief Mike Reese ordered the officers to change the profile pictures. Since the officers used their badges, Chief Reese said, it trumped the officers’ right to free speech during their time off the job.

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Before Officer Strom took his picture down, Sgt. Barnum was one of 31 people who “liked’’ the photo. He told the AP that he “liked’’ the image out of solidarity for the police profession, not because he supports Wilson.

In an interview with CNN, Sgt. Barnum said: “I just hope that those folks who are creating the chaos and doing the damage to their communities realize that they’re setting everything back. All the hard work that police officers and community members are doing, trying to come together and build those relationships—it’s the silent, smaller entity that is really detracting from the larger picture and the change that folks want.’’

Writer Yesha Callahan questioned Sgt. Barnum’s sincerity in a piece today on The Root. “You have to wonder if this is just an act for Barnum and a way to gain notoriety. Because liking a profile photo that states ‘I am Darren Wilson’ seems to contradict his views on police officers and their relationship building with black people. Especially when you choose also to side with a police officer who killed a black man and those who support that officer,’’ Callahan wrote.

The Internet is a fickle friend.

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The cop who was heralded for reaching across the protest line to embrace a distraught young man is now having his motives challenged for clicking “like’’ on a Facebook page of a colleague standing up for another colleague he may have never met. One writer, Jonathon Jones, went so far as to call the photo a “blatant lie.’’

“Liking this picture as a definitive image of America’s race crisis is the equivalent of locking yourself in and turning up the volume to weep at Frozen while the streets are burning outside. Which is exactly what white Americans apparently want to do,’’ wrote Jones in The Guardian.

A picture may be worth a thousand words. Those words, however, are up for interpretation.

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