Jermell Hasson spent his summer sleeping in a parking lot in Ferguson to join the protests over Michael Brown's shooting by police. Hasson's reward was to become racist America's favorite meme, after a doctored image of him was shared thousands of times across the internet's dark, sticky id-corners.
Riverfront Times photographer Mitch Ryals snapped an innocuous shot in September of Hasson carrying a sign with fellow protesters that read "No mother should have to fear for her son's life every time he leaves home," with the hashtags "#blacklivesmatter" and "#stayhuman":
Opponents of the protests did not take Hasson's advice. Instead, the Times reports, its image of him went viral after his sign was photoshopped to read "No mother should have to fear for her son's life every time he robs a store":
Brown was suspected of helping to knock over a convenience store before the confrontation with Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson that led to the teen's death.
Riverfront Times caught up with one local man, Jim Gleason, who was apparently one of the first to share the made-up image on Facebook with the note "You can't make this up!!!!" (It was subsequently shared more than 28,000 times.) Gleason explained to the Times what was apparently self-evident to him and other fans of the image—that suspected robbers of convenience stores should be summarily shot:
Gleason says he is surprised and saddened by the backlash to the photo he posted because "qualified investigators at all levels of government" concluded that Brown robbed the convenience store before his death.
"It appears that this young man robbed a store, assaulted a police officer, and it is just surprising to me the uprising when the physical evidence seems to be overwhelmingly in support of the police officer's actions," Gleason says.
Hasson called the image-doctoring a "slander," but he seems to be taking it in stride. "It shows that we are making a difference out here," he told the Times:
For someone who has nothing better to do with their life than photoshop a sign, it shows me that we haven't been out here since August for no reason. They're trying to stop the movement, which they can't.