Oregon Police Officer Shows the Real Face of America’s Finest
It is a tumultuous time in American race relations. All over the country, press coverage of the police has been negative. In recent weeks, however, followers of social media have been opening their hearts to one Portland, Oregon officer whose photograph was captured by freelance photographer Johnny Nguyen.
Nguyen was taking pictures during a Portland demonstration held in response to the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. He saw 21-year veteran Portland Police Sergeant Bret Barnum hugging 12-year-old Devonte Hart, and he took the shot. The picture has been viewed on the Internet hundreds of thousands of times.
Sgt. Barnum explains the interaction happened at the start of the protest. Speakers were addressing the crowd, and emotions were high. He saw a 12-year-old African-American boy with tears in his eyes. The boy was holding a “Free Hugs” sign.
The officer engaged the boy in conversation, talking about school and about life. After a moment, Sgt. Barnum pointed to Devonte’s sign and asked him, “Do I get one of those?” The photographer snapped the next moment, in which Devonte tearfully embraced the officer. Moments later, Sgt. Barnum returned to his duties, and Devonte rejoined his family and friends.
Devonte’s story is an inspirational one, as well. He was born addicted to drugs, and the first four years of his life were filled with extreme abuse and neglect. The Inquisitor reports:
By the time he was 4-years-old, Devonte had drank (sic) alcohol, smoked, handled guns, and been shot at. He’d suffered horrific abuse and neglect. He only knew a handful of words, and the two he used most can’t be printed in this article. He was violent. He had a long list of disabilities. Like so many other black boys born in the inner city, Devonte’s future seemed to have already been written for him.
Then he was adopted. His mother, Jen Brown, says the day they brought him home was frightening, and traumatic. She continues:
That night, after we finally got him to sleep, I cried harder than I had ever cried in my life. I felt like there was no way we could raise this child…
Yet, she says, there was something inexplicable pulling at her heart. ‘I felt more connected to this fragile little boy more than I had ever felt to anyone in my life.”
On Devonte’s 11th birthday, the one thing he asked for was the opportunity to raise money for charity, and that was his request again when he turned 12. One day in the grocery store, a cashier asked if he wanted to grow up and go into sports. He said he doesn’t know what he wants to be, but he does want to help people.
Sgt. Bret Barnum believes that will happen. He says, “I think this kid will be all right. No matter what is tossed at him.”