This story is running everywhere right now: Jennifer Foster, a tourist from Arizona was walking around New York’s Times Square with her boyfriend when she saw a homeless man sitting on the sidewalk asking for change. He was obviously cold – without shoes or socks on a frigid night. Just then, a NYC police officer bent down, and gave the man a brand-new pair of winter boots and some thermal socks (that he bought for the guy using his own money). Jenni (may I call you Jenni?) used her her cellphone to grab a photo of the act.
The photo shows the officer crouched on his left knee (a modified Tebow). The homeless guy is pulling his new socks out of the bag while his new insulated boots are between him and the cop.
This is news today, but the story happened back two weeks ago – an eternity in social media years. Why did it break now? Because the picture surfaced.
After her NY trip, Jenni returned to Arizona where she works with the communications and dispatch department of the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office. There, surrounded by other police officers, she sent the department an email, telling them about what she had witnessed in NYC… kind of an “atta-boy” pat on the back to the men in blue. Someone at the NYPD found out about it and asked if they could use the picture on their Facebook site. And the rest, as they say, is social media history.
On Facebook, the photo took off. As I write this, it has over half a million likes and has been shared 187,000 times. The officer in the photo was soon identified as Larry DePrimo, 25, a cop who still lives with his parents on Long Island.
Why did Jenni take this picture? She told the New York Times it was for herself, she didn’t intend to share it with anyone. Instead, she said she snapped the photo because it brought back a childhood memory of her own father, a now deceased Phoenix police officer, crouching down to give food to a homeless man.
It’s a great story and although I hate the abuse of power that is often associated with police officers, it’s great to see a photo of a cop doing something nice. But the moral of this story is much deeper than a selfless compassionate act – it’s about the power of a picture. This story would have made three people feel good (the guy with the new boots and socks, the cop and Jenni) had it not been for the photograph, now it’s news and reaching millions. It because someone took a picture.
That’s why I travel to Sudan, Ethiopia, Haiti, Philippines and 65 other countries – to capture heart grabbing pictures (and video) of compelling stories that push people to respond the way this cop did: with selfless compassion.