When Jermell Hasson agreed to let Riverfront Times take his photo for a story about Ferguson protesters, he had no idea someone would later turn it into a viral and inflammatory meme.
Hasson carried a sign in front of the Ferguson police station that read: "No mother should have to fear for her son's life every time he leaves home. #blacklivesmatter #stayhuman"
Months later, a doctored photo of him holding a sign that says, "No mother should have to fear for her son's life every time he robs a store," has gone viral.
"That's slander to my character," Hasson tells Daily RFT. "You can tell it's obviously been photoshopped. It was a horrible job."
Imgur user Bdawgid says he's the Photoshop wizard behind the altered photo, which was posted to the photo-sharing site on November 27. Bdawgid writes on Imgur that he created the image because, "it captured mine, and many others, frustration with this whole situation."
More than 28,000 people shared the faked photo after Jim Gleason, a Maplewood native who's owned a south-county sign business for almost twenty years, posted it on Facebook with the (very incorrect) description: "You can't make this up!!!!!"
Gleason wouldn't tell Daily RFT what motivated him to share the photo, which refers to the death of Michael Brown, who was recorded on surveillance cameras stealing from a convenience store and was later fatally shot by then-Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson.
"I certainly didn't mean any harm by it," Gleason says. He says he found the doctored image on Facebook and took the image down after getting "an onslaught of emails" saying it was fake. "We absolutely, unequivocally did not edit it."
Riverfront Times reporter Mitch Ryals took the original photo of Hasson, 27, in September in front of the police station.
Hasson told Daily RFT in September he'd been sleeping in a parking lot across the street from the police station for weeks to peacefully protest Brown's death.
"We were literally on this lot for 24 hours for that whole month," Hasson told Daily RFT in September. "I'm not saying here for an hour then going home. Twenty-four [hours] we were in this lot peacefully protesting. We've been rained on for a full week on this lot waiting for the sun to come out in the morning to dry us out."
This week, Hasson tells Daily RFT he thinks the doctored photo is a sign that Ferguson protests are having an effect on the way people think.
"It shows that we are making a difference out here," Hasson says. "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."
Hasson says he has a message for Gleason and the thousands of people who shared the fake photo: "Remove the hatred out of your heart, and come and see what we're doing for yourself."
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.
People who objected to the provocative photo posted to the Facebook page for Gleason's business, Sign-A-Rama St. Louis, to warn customers.
"Makes the BEST racist memes on Facebook," one person sarcastically wrote on the shop's Facebook page. "Gives good discounts to whites, charges darkies extra. Highly recommended to any whites in St. Louis looking for a good white pride meme."
Mitch Ryals contributed reporting to this story.
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