Viral photo from Sunday’s protest shows tense scene with police; here’s the backstory

Cal State Long Beach senior journalism major Richard Grant knows he probably took the most powerful photo of his journalistic career during Sunday’s George Floyd protest Downtown.

The 27-year-old was covering the event for the student newspaper the Daily Forty-Niner.

When he tweeted the photo the next day, it seemed that many others agreed. It’s already garnered over 145,000 retweets and over 312,000 likes.

In the photo, a man is seen standing directly in front of a line of Long Beach police officers on Pine Avenue at Broadway. The man is holding his young child on his shoulders.

Some are calling it the most iconic image to come out of the protest, which saw 3,000 people march onto the streets of Long Beach to decry police brutality and officers killing of black men and women.

But in the age of #FakeNews, others are claiming the image is Photoshopped. They say the officer is not aiming directly at the man and his child. Others insist he is.

The truth, like always, is complicated.

“The picture is real,” Grant said, but it doesn’t show exactly what many assumed it does. In the picture, the officer is not directly pointing his rubber-bullet launcher at the man.

However, Grant said he was able to track down the subject of his photo and talk to him about the events surrounding that moment in time. The man told Grant that police did point their less-than-lethal weapons at him at one moment.

“At one point during the whole interaction—not the 500th of a second that my shutter was open for—he did have a gun pointed at his face at one point during all this,” Grant said.

Grant said he had no intention of misrepresenting the photo as showing the officer aiming at the man and child. He has updated his captions on social media to further explain, but, ultimately, he said he can’t control how people see it.

“It’s a very tense scene, so a lot of people are going to take it for the two elements you really see in there, the two main elements, and connect whatever dots they want,” Grant said.

Grant said the image he was going for, what he saw with his own eyes, “was a strong black man standing for his rights, fearless, at the face of police.”

It was a tense situation with more than a dozen cops facing off with protesters, Grant said, in part because there were people throwing bottles and other debris toward police and police were firing back with rubber bullets. The whole time, Grant said, he was dodging the debris and keeping his head low to avoid getting injured.

“Even if he wasn’t pointing it directly at the man and the child, anything can happen; he could’ve hit them,” Grant said.

Around that time, another journalist covering the event was struck by rubber bullets as well on nearby 3rd Street.

Grant says he stands by his photo, saying that even though some people think the photo’s angle misrepresents what happened during the 500th of a second his frame caught the scene, it still represents the event as a whole.

In a statement addressing the photo, the Daily Forty-Niner said “student reporters will continue to be dedicated to reporting the truth and documenting impactful events in the community as part of the learning experience.”

Meanwhile, the Long Beach Police Department said it’s reviewing the incident.

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Stephanie Rivera is the community engagement editor for the Long Beach Post. After graduating from CSULB with a degree in journalism, Stephanie worked for Patch Latino and City News Service before coming to the Long Beach Post in 2015.