The city of East Liverpool, Ohio, is at the center of a controversy involving a few photographs they posted to Facebook in the recent weeks. The photo shows an older couple and a young child in a parked car, and both the man and the woman are passed out on heroin. The 4-year-old child in the back was physically safe, but his guardians were in bad shape. The police who found the car took several photos of the scene and posted them to Facebook under the guise of a story of their great morals. The caption with the photo claimed the city wanted to be the voice of the children affected by the heroin epidemic. They warned other users against injecting by reminding them it could be their child sitting in the back of that car.
When the photos were posted by the city, they were not blurred to hide the child’s face or the faces of his guardians. Even though they claim the post was meant to act as a voice for the children, it truly did something much more complex and psychological. To begin with, the entire post doesn’t include any information about the boy, instead it focuses on the officer who located the car. This shows an inherent lack of emotion of behalf of the child and a clear focus on reminding the public of their authority.
The post goes on to say that they don’t mind if they offend the public by posting the photos, because they unilaterally feel it is time for the public to be faced with some of the horrors they see as police offers. Further along, it states that even though the problem is widespread, they will fight it until it is gone, regardless of who they offend while doing so. This subtle power play is very calculated in its nature, because it does nothing to actually help anyone understand the severity of the heroin epidemic.
It is clear the post was designed to support the narrative that this boy is the victim, but that child had problems long before they were shared to Facebook by the city of East Liverpool, and he will most likely have issues long after people have forgotten this incident. The child will be removed from the custody of the two guardians from the car, who turned out to be the child’s grandmother and grandfather. His grandmother had only recently been granted full custody of the child. Currently, the boy is staying in South Carolina with his great-uncle and great-aunt.
His grandmother claims the city humiliated them all by not blurring their faces, and she has a decent point. Of course, the city claims they could not alter the photo, but that isn’t entirely true. Police and city officials have the ability to alter public records all the time, especially with redactions in the case of minors. A photo is a perfect example when a visual redaction would have been appropriate, but they smugly chose to post they photo unaltered.
The true reason behind these photos wasn’t to show the true side of heroin. It was to create a propagandist sense of control and power meant to counteract all the anti-police rhetoric that is prevalent in the liberal and even moderate sects of society. This post serves only a single significant purpose, which is to show how addicts are treated as nothing more than animals instead of the sick and suffering people they truly are. It does so by reinforcing that idea to those who view these stories from afar and have no real connection to the horrors of heroin.