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That Iconic Image of a Mom and the Police Force Says Everything

Photograph by REUTERS

Never underestimate a mother fighting for the safety and well-being of her child. That is precisely what Ieshia Evans was doing in Baton Rouge on Saturday, when Reuters photographer Jonathon Bachman captured this iconic moment. A Brooklyn mother of a 5-year-old son, Evans traveled from Pennsylvania to take part in protests against the recent police killing of Alton Sterling.

This mother may be wearing flats and a flimsy sundress, but she is steel, strength personified. As a mother, I recognize her despite never having met her. Her gaze is unwavering, her stance rooted. Ieshia Evans was going nowhere on that Baton Rouge street. She had work to do, despite being faced with a seeming army of modern day Storm Troopers.

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As Americans, we should thank her.

The right to peacefully protest is firmly rooted in our history. Ms. Evans was doing just that, in fact had traveled from many states away, leaving her son at home, because one day that young son will grow into an African American man and life is hard, too hard, for black men in America.

I think about what it took for her, a young mother, to leave her child, pack up her car and head south, into the mouth of the lion, if you will. It seems obvious that Ieshia was not planning on becoming the focal point of a viral photo, a symbol of a growing movement. She was mothering in that moment, despite her son being over 1,000 miles away. She was doing something monumental, she was declaring enough, with her head high and full of conviction. My guess is, though, her heart was beating fast, despite her courage.

As mothers, we work to keep our kids protected in this world today, and as they grow up, ensuring the world they inherit from us is a safe one for them. Police officers, too, have protection at the core of their mission. “To serve and protect” is something many of us associate with police forces across America. In this photo, then, we are seeing two very different versions of what it means to protect.

Police, here, are relying on armor, tanks and high-powered guns to protect, sometimes themselves. Ms. Evans had nothing more than the phone she carried and her mother’s love to rely upon. I know which one is stronger.

The social media space has embraced Ieshia Evans and exalted her as a hero of the Black Lives Matter movement. Various news outlets are reporting that, after this confrontation was captured, Ms. Evans was, in fact, arrested and held in a Baton Rouge jail overnight. She did not resist her arrest, and all accounts suggest she was treated adequately while in custody.

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The story, though, is not what happens after the camera went away and Ms. Evans was escorted into police custody. The story here, that even the police in the photo seem to recognize, is that a mother’s love is fierce. A mother’s love is strong. A mother’s love is pure. None of that can be denied.

Black lives do matter, black sons matter and a mother’s love is capable of extraordinary feats. Ieshia Evans was alone on that Baton Rouge highway as she stood her ground and fought for her son’s future, faced with a wall of officers whose job was to remove her.

The dynamics are complicated; the goals are not.

This mother salutes her.

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