Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
November 23, 2014

Prejudice in Ferguson: Zun Lee's White Cop

With the world’s eyes on Ferguson f0r the result of that endless grand jury, I was interested in this eye on the situation in early October by photographer Zun Lee. Of course, the photo is notable for what it doesn’t do — which is pigeonhole or reduce the situation to a one liner.  What’s clearly provocative about the photo, however, is the way it lends depth, if not empathy toward the officer. Suddenly, the agent of the state is more another young man, one out there alone, a little bit vulnerable perhaps, with his own eyes for what’s going on.

A bit blasphemous or hypocritical, some might say? What’s quite smart if awkward and uncomfortable is how the photo takes the core crisis in Ferguson — the stereotyping and the targeting of the young black male — and brings that instinct to bear in a reverse fashion. For viewers all too mindful of the prejudice that cuts black youth down, the photograph forces viewers to confront some of the same toxicity in one’s prejudice toward the cop.

(You can see the entire photo essay here. As another distinct portrait, I also like the 13th photo quite a bit, of Martrell Hughes, family man.)

(Update: the photographer’s name has been exchanged in two places in the second paragraph with the words, “the photo” and “the photograph.” Although it’s a bit of a judgement call, I agree with Beller below that the post was ascribing too much intent to Lee for a particular reading.)

(photo: Zun Lee for MSNBC. caption: A police officer faces protesters in front of the Ferguson Police Department building on Oct. 10, 2014)

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