A viral photo of a Black Lives Matter protester standing in front of a police barricade in Baton Rouge is being hailed as “iconic” and “legendary,” and the Huffington Post, among many others, says that the image “evokes Tiananmen Square”:
No, it doesn’t.
There is no question that freelance photographer Jonathan Bachman captured a suggestive image during the protests on Baton Rouge on Saturday. But the question is: suggestive of what? For scores of people on Twitter, the answer was obvious: an innocent woman of unfathomable courage standing down the systematized violence of the State.
But here’s a different interpretation: Ieshia L. Evans, the protester in question, did what she did because she knew it was safe to do so. Contrary to the narrative propagated by many activists, black Americans are not being systematically killed by law enforcement. The vast majority of interactions between blacks and police officers raise no concerns. As Heather Mac Donald shows in her new book The War on Cops, the withdrawal of police from predominantly black urban areas over the past two years has distressed, not cheered, many people in those communities. Law enforcement is not corrupt or “illegitimate,” as some of the most strident voices in the Black Lives Matter movement claim. And most people know it — including Black Lives Matter activists. If you keep between the barricades as you march down Fifth Avenue, you’ll be just fine.
In Tiananmen Square, the “Unknown Rebel” faced actual, imminent danger. There was no guarantee that those tanks would not simply run him down. It’s worth recalling that, over the ensuing 48 hours, China’s Communist government killed several hundred protesters in an effort to crush the demonstrations. That is what systematic killing by an illegitimate government looks like.
By contrast, Evans was taken into custody — which, if Bachman is right, was partly by design: He says he believes he heard Evans say that she was going to step into the road and get arrested. Either way, it was not much of an event. Says Bachman: “It wasn’t very violent. She didn’t say anything. She didn’t resist and the police didn’t drag her off.”
But the picture reveals none of that. It is a decontextualized image, wide open to interpretation. If it is “iconic,” it is only because certain people need it to be.