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‘Graceful in the lion’s den’: Photo of young woman’s arrest in Baton Rouge becomes powerful symbol

A demonstrator protesting the shooting death of Alton Sterling is detained by law enforcement in Baton Rouge on July 9, 2016. (Jonathan Bachman/Reuters)
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She was the calm at the center of the storm, a storm spreading across the country.

The young woman stood silently on the cracked asphalt, her summer dress billowing in the breeze.

Around her swirled a kinetic mix of police officers and protesters. Dozens of demonstrators had blocked Baton Rouge’s Airline Highway on Saturday to denounce the death four days earlier of Alton Sterling, shot by police outside a convenience store. Many protesters carried signs. Some shouted into bullhorns. A few carried guns.

A phalanx of police officers stepped across the road, dressed in riot gear.

Jonathan Bachman was snapping pictures of protesters yelling at the officers when he turned and saw her.

The woman in the summer dress didn’t seem to look at the two officers as they ran toward her. Instead, she seemed to look beyond them — even as they arrested her.

“She just stood there and made her stand,” the Reuters photographer told BuzzFeed. “I was just happy to be able to capture something like that.”

Bachman’s powerful photo quickly went viral.

The young woman’s stoic pose drew comparisons to Rosa Parks’s refusing to give up a seat on a segregated bus or “tank man” facing down war machines in Tiananmen Square.

Some likened her to a modern-day Statue of Liberty, guiding a bitterly divided country back toward the proper path.

Others called her a “superhero.”

Several, however, said she was simply breaking the law and deserved her night in jail.

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What is clear is that the image of the young woman’s arrest has captured a critical moment for the country. Like the Facebook video of Diamond “Lavish” Reynolds calmly talking to the officer who had just fatally shot her fiance, the photo of the arrest in Baton Rouge encapsulates both the anger and the exhaustion of Black Lives Matter activists.

“There are certain photos that define a moment: The man in front of the tank in [Tiananmen] Square; the girl crying over her dead friend at Kent State; the sailor dipping and kissing the girl in Times Square; John John saluting JFK’s casket,” wrote Cynthia Cox Ubaldo on Facebook. “This is one of those iconic photos to define the moment and the movement.”

The power of the photo was immediately evident to Bachman, 31.

“That was the first image I transferred [to Reuters] because I knew it was going to be an important photo,” he told BuzzFeed. “You can take images of plenty of people getting arrested, but I think this one speaks more to the movement and what the demonstrators are trying to accomplish here in Baton Rouge.”

Bachman gave more details on the woman’s arrest to the Atlantic magazine. Baton Rouge and Louisiana State police had just moved a group of protesters off the road, arresting three or four, when the young woman walked into their way.

“I had my attention on people confronting the police on the side of the road,” he said. “I had turned to look over my right shoulder, I think that I had heard this women say something about [how] she was going to be arrested, and I saw this woman, and she was standing in the first lane in that road.

“It happened quickly, but I could tell that she wasn’t going to move, and it seemed like she was making her stand. To me it seemed like: You’re going to have to come and get me.

“It wasn’t very violent. She didn’t say anything. She didn’t resist, and the police didn’t drag her off.”

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Bachman knew he had a great photo, but he didn’t get the woman’s name.

"She has a poster, you have a shotgun," one protester yelled as Baton Rouge police rushed onto yards and sidewalks to arrest demonstrators on July 10. (Video: TWP)

Within hours of the photo’s publication, news outlets, activists and the Internet itself were working overtime to figure out who she was. The Atlantic and the BBC both asked readers for help.

After activist and New York Daily News writer Shaun King posted the photo to Facebook, several self-identified friends and family members identified her as Ieshia Evans.

“To see all of the comments under this post shows me that my cousin did not make a mistake by going out there and standing up for her rights and what she believes in,” wrote Nikka Thomas. “I’m proud to call you my family Ieshia.”

“This is my best friend that I have known since we were 8 (20 years now),” wrote R. Alex Haynes. “Her name is Ieshia and she has a 5 year old son. She went to Baton Rouge because she wanted to look her son in the eyes to tell him she fought for his freedom and rights. They haven’t released her as of yet but she’s fine. And yes, she is everything you see in this photo + so much more.”

Haynes told The Washington Post that Evans is, in fact, the woman in the photo. He forwarded a statement from him and his wife, Natasha, saying that Ieshia is from Brooklyn and lives in Pennsylvania. (Public records support this.) Evans traveled to Baton Rouge after the fatal police-involved shooting of Alton Sterling because “she has a son she wants a better future for,” according to the statement.

“She was overcome by emotions while she was watching the protest,” the statement continued. “The officers wanted to push the protesters and viewers further back and she found that unjust — given that it was a peaceful protest.”

Haynes told The Post that Evans had been released from jail Sunday evening. He confirmed the authenticity of a Facebook account under her name.

Messages posted to that account Sunday evening also appeared to confirm Evans is the woman in the iconic photo.

“I just need you people to know. I appreciate the well wishes and love, but this is the work of God. I am a vessel! Glory to the most high! I’m glad I’m alive and safe. And that there were no casualties that I have witnessed first hand,” read a message posted at 11:53 p.m. Eastern time Sunday.

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Two minutes later, the same account posted a link to a Daily Mail article identifying the woman in the photo as Ieshia Evans, “a 28-year-old mom and nurse’s assistant who spent 24 hours in jail for her ‘crime.'”

The caption on the Facebook post, however, appeared to correct the article.

“I’m definitely an LPN [licensed practical nurse] and proud! But thank you,” the post said. (The Daily Mail article was later changed to say “nurse.”)

“To all of my friends and acquaintances please don’t do any interviews about me,” said a post two hours later. “If they want my story, I am here. I would like the opportunity to represent myself! Thank you. Peace, love, blk power! ‪#‎blacklivesmatter‬.”

Messages sent to the Facebook account by The Post were not immediately returned late Sunday night.

In the Internet’s desperate efforts to figure out the identity of the woman in the viral photo, a misspelling of Evans’s name began trending on Twitter.

Even if her name was muddled, the reaction was not.

“She is the definition of bravery,” wrote Judith Karline on Facebook.

Many focused on the contrast between the young woman — strong and straight as an arrow yet seemingly at ease in her summer dress — and the two men, running toward her but burdened by their own clunky uniforms.

“These guys really look like combat troops right out of ‘Star Wars,'” wrote Les Braden. “This is the state of policing in America? This woman is an example of the terrorists they seek to control? I think they have gone mad with their power.”

“She looks a superhero, and the over-dressed riot cops look like bumbling fools,” wrote Katrina Galore.

“She looks like a queen greeting peasants,” wrote Ali Bushby. “I love this photo so much. No violence, no anger, just the knowledge of moral superiority.”

Some compared the woman to Reynolds, another young black woman who kept her cool in an even more tense situation, as her fiance, Philando Castile, bled out in the car seat next to her, shot by a panicked police officer near St. Paul, Minn., last week.

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Others noted the similarity to Tess Asplund, a young black woman who also struck a solitary figure as she stood up to neo-Nazis in Sweden in May.

“Always a black woman on the front lines,” wrote Dani Heide. “She looks graceful in the lion’s den but it’s really tiring never having protection but always running to protect.”

“She has that calm fierceness,” wrote Shelly Burrows. “The tempest is blowing around her, yet she is not fazed. She stands tall, shoulders back as a testament that black lives do matter and she will not be moved. She is standing proudly, beautifully silent in defiance. It’s such a gorgeous image and very powerful.”

Some asked how they could donate money to help defend the woman in court.

Not everybody was so moved, though.

“She was arrested after being told multiple times by police over a bullhorn to get out of the roadway,” wrote Helen Newton. “This is a MAJOR 3-lane [highway] in the middle of Baton Rouge.”

Others said the situation was not as black and white as the photo — or the reaction to the photo, at least — made it seem.

Several pointed out that the Saturday protest took place barely 24 hours after five police officers were killed and seven more injured in Dallas. Dallas Police say Micah Xavier Johnson targeted white officers Thursday night in Dallas because he was upset over recent police killings of black men, including Sterling in Baton Rouge.

“I live in Baton Rouge, close to where all this is happening,”Lisa Sheets wrote. “This picture is beautiful, but the comments on the police could [not] be farthest from the truth. They are in riot gear because of Dallas for one thing, and they are having bottles thrown at them, they are being spit on, they have arrested some with weapons, it only takes one second for a riot to happen. They are doing their job. But they are respecting their right to protest, they only ask ONE thing [of] them, to stay out of the roadway, it’s a major thoroughfare. They are usually warned many times before they are arrested. We are having some protests that are very peaceful and the citizens are getting their point across without the violence. Violence is never the answer, just divides even more.”

“It only took one man to kill 5 cops and injure 6 [sic] others in Dallas,” wrote Kathryn Steele. “How were they to be sure that this wasn’t going to be more of the same.”

According to the Advocate, more than 100 people were arrested at the protest, eight guns were seized and an officer had his teeth knocked out by a thrown object.

Bizarrely, in Bachman’s photo, the two officers are frozen in time just at the moment they reach the young woman. It’s almost as if they are about to hug her.

But they didn’t.

And therein lies the photo’s tragic power.

“Possibly the most poignant thing about this photo is that if you look just below where their hands meet you can see a literal divide in the road,” wrote Lauren Francis, a particularly keen-eyed commenter. “Simply a random crack in the earth, but boy it speaks volumes.

The scene in Baton Rouge after a police officer fatally shot a black man

BATON ROUGE, LA,- JULY 11: Dakeria Anderson, 9, protests with the help of her sisters D'liyah, 6, and D'anyriah, 8, across the street from the Triple S market where Alton Sterling wash shot and killed in Baton Rouge, LA, on July 11, 2016. The girls father, Dewayne Anderson said that he had been protesting since the beginning and the girls wanted to know what it was all about. The other side of the sign reads: no justice no peace. (Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post)

Correction: A previous version of this article said Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat at the front of a segregated bus. In fact, she refused to give up her seat at the front of the “colored” section, near the middle of the bus, to a white passenger after the “white only” section filled up.

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