It was the image that gave birth to hope in the midst of anger and chaos. A tearful 12-year-old black boy being consoled by a white police officer as hundreds protested around them.

For millions who were touched by the now iconic image of Devonte Hart and Bret Barnum embracing in Portland, Oregon, it could not have come at a more crucial time.

While news outlets focused on the fact that Ferguson had descended into anarchy following the acquittal of police officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown, one picture represented racial togetherness and the promise of a more united future.

"The photograph poignantly captured the hope that that gap could still be bridged," one CBS story said.

But a photographer that witnessed the scene is now claiming that that 'perfect' picture, captured by freelancer Johnny Nguyen, was nothing more than a staged propaganda tool.

According to Alex Riedlinger, the picture of Hart and Barnum was strategically cropped in order to hide the fact that their warm embrace was disingenuous.

"The cropping of an image is everything when it comes to its subjectivity and the way ideas are projected unto it," Riedlinger told the Visionary Futures tumblr.

He went on to explain that he found the way that the image was propagandised "highly disturbing to me because it distracts from the real issues."

"Every picture I've seen of this crops out the circus of photographers that surrounded these two creating a captive audience. With such a captive audience I can't really say that the officer did anything that his superiors wouldn't have told him to do."

So was it all a lie?

Hart's mother insists that the picture, which has got almost 500,000 Facebook shares, is the real deal. Jennifer Hart says that her son just want to spread love and kindness with his "Free hugs" sign following the controversial decision.

"My son has a heart of a gold, compassion beyond anything I've ever experienced, yet struggles with living fearlessly when it comes to the police and people that don't understand the complexity of racism that is prevalent in our society," she wrote in a message on Facebook alongside the snap. "It was one of the most emotionally charged experiences I've had as a mother."