The story behind this viral photo of a cop pointing his gun at a black woman

The scene is a shocking one: A white cop drawing his gun on two unarmed black women, in broad daylight, on a busy Cleveland street. 

Photos of the incident have stirred up anti-police anxieties in the wake of Sandra Bland‘s death and the police shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice by a Cleveland officer earlier this year. But the latest outpouring of viral outrage may be for naught.

Allie “Allaay” Campbell was in downtown Cleveland this weekend, on her way to the Puerto Rican festival, when she witnessed the police encounter unfold.

“While walking there, I witnessed a woman rear end a truck then try to push past him. When [she] couldn’t, the woman driving got out,” Campbell told the Daily Dot via email. “Behind them comes a Cleveland police officer on a motorcycle with his gun drawn, and the woman already had her hands up. He did not say anything, he just pointed the gun while still on the motorcycle.”

After that, Campbell says, the officer pushed the woman into the back of the car and handcuffed her. 

Allie Campbell

The photo rocketed across the Web on Sunday, after someone claiming to be a friend of Campbell posted the photo to Reddit. Many commenters and Twitter users speculated that the officer drew his gun without justification.

Cleveland police Lt. Ali Pillow told local ABC News affiliate ABC 5 that the women involved in the crash were wanted for multiple hit-and-run accidents, implying just cause for the officer’s precaution. The driver was arrested for operating a vehicle under the influence, according to Pillow. Others were arrested as well, Pillow said.

It is unclear exactly why the officer, who’s not been named, felt the need to draw his firearm. The Cleveland Police Department did not return our request for comment.

The past year has seen an explosion of political unrest over police use of force sparked by the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York City, both of which led to the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. 

But this viral photo may simply be a case of a cop doing his job.

Photo via Ken/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)

Marisa Kabas

Marisa Kabas

Marisa Kabas is a lifestyle reporter and activist. Her work has been published by Fusion, Fast Company, and Today. She’s also served as an editorial campaigns director for Purpose PBC, a social movement incubator.