A powerful photo of a New Zealand police officer standing guard outside of a Christchurch cemetery — while wearing a black headscarf with a red rose on her lapel and holding a rifle — has become an image of “respect” for many around the world.
Mourners and relatives gathered to begin the process of burying the 50 people murdered by a lone gunman who attacked two mosques a week ago. Many women, including police officers, wore headscarves in New Zealand as a sign of solidarity with the country’s Muslim community.
Images of a young police officer standing guard outside the Christchurch Memorial Park Cemetery have been shared hundreds of times on social media. One of the images was captured by Stuff photographer Alden Williams.
The photographer captured the stark image of Whanganui Police Constable Michelle Evans holding a semi-automatic rifle while wearing a black headscarf.
“I’ve taken photos of police for a long, long time but a combination of hijab, assault rifle and rose is something I’ve never seen before,” Williams told his own news outlet. “Even if she had been only wearing one of them it would have something different.”
Williams explained to the news outlet that while other media was focusing on the arrival of mourners and relatives, the officer caught his eye.
“If anything she was kind of being overlooked,” he said.
However, the police officer also caught the attention of Associated Press photographer Vincent Yu.
When Evans was a young police recruit in 2016, the officer told the Whanganui Chronicle that she really wanted to help the community by being on the frontlines, and to work with the youth in her community.
“I wanted to work with the community that I was brought up in really, and just help people. It’s a satisfying job knowing that you’re going out there and that’s what you’re getting paid to do, is help people,” Evans told the newspaper at the time. “I find that I can quite easily talk to youth and they’re happy to talk to me. I don’t know if it’s maybe because I’m younger … it’s easy for me to relate or know where they’re coming from.”
The images of Evans were praised online.
“More than a thousand words in this photo,” reads a comment.
“In this photo I see Michelle doing a brave job. This is what our police do every day. They do an amazing job. She had to carry the gun,” reads another. “She chose to wear the headscarf and she chose to show the flower. The last two are power and love personified. She is a beautiful person in the pure sense of the word.”
Women from around the country shared images of themselves wearing headscarves on social media, with the hashtag #headscarfforharmony.
According to Stuff, Headscarf for Harmony was organized Friday by a group of women wanting to show solidarity with the Muslim community. The group were handing out scarfs at a community centre in Auckland.
Thaya Ashman, a non-Muslim doctor from Auckland and an organizer of the campaign, said she had contacted Muslim groups in the country prior to the campaign, concerned the gesture may be perceived as possible cultural appropriation.
“I think as long as it’s respectful, we’ve been assured the gesture will be appreciated,” Ashman told the news outlet.