The image is striking: Devonte Hart—a 12-year-old black boy—is being embraced by Brett Barnum, an older white police officer during a demonstration in Portland, Ore. last week. Indeed, the “Ferguson Hug” has become an iconic image from the nationwide protests following the decision not to indict officer Darren Wilson in the shooting of Michael Brown, a symbol of unity in a period marked by a striking divisiveness along largely racial lines.

But what if it this “perfect” image was essentially fake, or at the very least entirely disingenuous?

That’s what Portland photographer Alex Riedlinger suggested to the Visionary Futures tumblr, saying that the picture of Hart and Barnum is strategically cropped in order to mask the fact that the hug was hardly an organic moment. Here are two pictures Riedlinger took from a distance, before the hug photo was taken:

The first is of Devonte and his guardian chatting before Devonte had even approached the officer, and in the second you can see a crowd beginning to form as they approach one another.

Here is Riedlinger’s account of how things went down from there:

“The cropping of an image is everything when it comes to its subjectivity and the way ideas are projected unto it.

Every picture I’ve seen of this crops out the circus of photographers that surrounded these two creating a captive audience. With such a captive audience I can’t really say that the officer did anything that his superiors wouldn’t have told him to do. They were there just as much for public relations as to keep the peace otherwise the dept. wouldn’t have sent every queer looking, POC and female cop on the force.

The way this image has been propagandized is highly disturbing to me because it distracts from the real issues. This has never been about the relationship between individual officers and young Black men, but about the way in which our institutions and society protect cops, granting them license to use lethal force in ANY circumstance. Whether they do use it or decide to demonstrate “love” is irrelevant.’

I would like to add that Devonte was crying before approaching the officer while he was talking to his guardian, presumably because he was terrified. This brings the question of coercion to my mind, but I’ll let ya’ll debate over it.”

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[via Visionary Futures]