© 2024 WYPR
WYPR 88.1 FM Baltimore WYPF 88.1 FM Frederick WYPO 106.9 FM Ocean City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

A Protest, A Police Officer, A Yelling Mother: The Story Behind A Photo

Erin Michelle Threlfall argues with NYPD officers at a protest against President-elect Donald Trump in New York City on Wednesday.
Kena Betancur
AFP/Getty Images
Erin Michelle Threlfall argues with NYPD officers at a protest against President-elect Donald Trump in New York City on Wednesday.

Updated 8:20 p.m. ET

A young boy desperately pulling back on a woman's arm, as she shouts at an impassive police officer.

The photo — one of many from an anti-Trump protest distributed by Getty Images — showed up in People. It popped up on right-wing websites. And it appeared on NPR's website, with this caption: "A woman argues with NYPD officers as she takes part in a protest against President-elect Donald Trump in New York City."

The full story is more complicated, says Erin Michelle Threlfall — the woman in the photo.

"I would really like the world to know what happened," she told NPR.

Threlfall, a writer and teacher in New York City, posted about the photo's backstory on The Huffington Post. She says she was traveling home with her son when their bus driver stopped a few blocks from their subway stop and told all the passengers they'd have to walk.

They stepped out to discover the reason — a large anti-Trump protest.

"Had I been alone, I might have joined the crowd, but I had my son, and we were coming off a long and emotional day," Threlfall wrote on The Huffington Post. She says she tried to cross the street, along with some other people:

"When one man jostled into me, and yelled, I turned to see that the man who was walking alongside us had been grabbed by the police. He yelled that he was just crossing the street, and they threw him to the ground. When he tried to get up, they started hitting him with their batons.

"I didn't think things through at that moment, I just followed my instinct and started screaming: 'He was just crossing the street! He was being peaceful! Stop hitting him!' And they hit harder. So I screamed louder. Two officers stepped between me and the scene of the man on the ground, and I screamed one more time: 'He was being peaceful! Stop hitting him!'

"A crowd was gathering, my son was pulling my arm, and the woman police officer kindly said: 'Ma'am, I'll let them know, just walk away with your son.'

"We pushed our way through the crowd, and relief washed over me when I turned to see that a crowd had gathered with their cameras raised high: others had captured what we just saw. Little did I know that someone else in the crowd captured me."

Another woman, Hilary Udow, who has provided NPR with cellphone video of part of the confrontation, also says that officers detained a man who was walking across the street near Threlfall. "I was there when the police grabbed him and threw him down," she says, although she didn't see an officer beat him.

Udow recorded video showing the man pinned face down on the ground as a crowd, including Threlfall, confronts the officers detaining him. In the video, Threlfall is heard telling Udow to keep filming because the police were beating the man up. The video doesn't show any beating or how the incident began.

NPR asked the NYPD for comment on these allegations; we'll update this post if we receive a reply.

At The Huffington Post, Threlfall writes that she woke up to find her photo in various publications, and "comments were flying in about the kind of mother people assumed me to be."

"I might have shared some of those judgements, had I not known first hand what really happened," she wrote, "and now, you do too."

That's the story of the photo, but not the end of the night for Threlfall and her son.

After safely making it to the subway stop, Threlfall says she answered her son's questions about what the police were doing — "the police are trying to do their job to keep the streets safe, and sometimes, misunderstandings happen, and that's when we have to raise our voices to help protect one another," she remembers saying.

Threlfall says they watched the marching protesters together, then spoke with another police officer to answer some of her son's questions before heading home for the night.

Along the way, Threlfall's son asked her to take some photos of her own.

She posted one of them on her Instagram: a protester, holding a sign that read "Hope."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Camila Flamiano Domonoske covers cars, energy and the future of mobility for NPR's Business Desk.