The Story Behind That Unforgettable Ferguson Protest Photo

August 25, 2014 | Marina Galperina

After midnight on August 13th, St. Louis Post-Dispatch photographer Robert Cohen captured the image of a protestor throwing back a smoking tear gas cylinder fired by the police in the streets of Ferguson. From news and social media to t-shirts and street art, the image has become iconic of the conflict and excessive police force on peaceful protestors in the wake of a cop’s fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Mike Brown. St. Louis Post-Dispatch located the subject, Edward Crawford, to get a clearer picture of what actually happened in that fateful moment:

Crawford says he wasn’t angry when he threw it. He was angry beforehand. Afterward — as he was being dragged out of a car, cuffed and jailed — he was mostly just scared.

And throwing it wasn’t an act of rebellion, he said. It was instinct.

A waiter and a father of three, 25-year-old Edward Crawford says that the protestors were not armed and he was shocked when the police attacked the crowd with rubber bullets and tear gas. “Why are you all shooting people?” he was thinking. And when the canister landed right next to him, he did not know what it was. “It was on fire. It was spinning.” He just threw it right back. He was wearing one of his favorite shirts with the American flag on it, an emblematic accident that became part of the iconography, because his other shirt was dirty.

Crawford was arrested shortly after and charged with officer interference. This was his first protest. You can find him on Twitter. (Photo: Robert Cohen, St. Louis Post-Dispatch)