I will never forget the day the video of the killing of Laquan McDonald, the unarmed teen who was shot 16 times by one police officer while he lay on the ground, was released. The image of smoke discharge from the bullets that riddled his lifeless body as he lay on the concrete is as seared into my head as is the face of Emmett Till, the 14-year old boy who was lynched in 1955 for allegedly whistling at a white woman. His heavily disfigured face juxtaposed against his pre-lynching photos are still too much to bear, even though his murder occurred before I was even born. Despite the horrific nature of McDonald’s killing and the cover-up that was revealed in how he actually was murdered (read – executed), there was one other aspect of the killing that was almost as bad as the killing itself—the way in which the video of his murder became must-see-TV.
Throughout the day, every news outlet I watched almost boasted on how they would have the video primed and ready for the evening news. It was being billed as if it was a major sporting event, a speech by The President, or an impending visit by The Pope. For the life of me, I just could not figure out why a boy’s murder was turning into such a spectacle until I remembered the words of Jason Silverstein who wrote in his article “I don’t feel your pain” that there exists a “racial empathy gap” in America. In short, he says that when we (people of all races) see black people experiencing pain, we do not feel as much empathy as when we see white people experiencing pain. In fact, Silverstein goes as far as to say that we feel no pain when we see a black person harmed. His argument makes perfect sense.
Do you remember WDBJ reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward? They were tragically shot to death while reporting live by a gunman whose name I will not share and add to his notoriety. The video of McDonald’s murder was released a month before Parker and Ward. While the world waited to watch McDonald get murdered, all media outlets found Parker and Ward’s murders “too graphic” to show or chose to not show the video out of respect to Parker and Ward’s family. Even on YouTube, you must be signed in and prove you are an adult to possibly see the full video. I completely agree and supported the decision to not show Parker and Ward get murdered but the question has to be asked: what makes the killing of a black man “must-see-TV” but the killing of anyone else too graphic?
From Latasha Harlins (25 years ago), Scott Walker and John Crawford to Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and now Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and everyone in between, we keep killings of black people on loop, almost as if they were public lynchings from earlier times. It is as if we cannot believe a black person can be killed unjustly. Furthermore, even after seeing these videos, many of us either stay in denial or come up with justifications as to why these Americans (yes, Americans) deserved to die. Meanwhile, many of us who know that we or our loved ones can easily be next repost the videos for everyone to see and then take to the streets in tear-filled anger and protest. I for one will no longer participate in this incessant song and dance routine.
I will not be watching the videos of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile being killed by the police. I have seen enough. Watching these videos do not move me to do anything productive. When I have watched these videos in the past, my emotions run from blood boiling to crying. I see myself in John Crawford’s face as his family hears him say over the phone “[the gun] is not real” as he bled to death. I see too many faces of people I know in the faces of Rice, Amadou Diallo, and others. Lastly, watching these videos impede my ability to be a fully participating husband and father because I become consumed with thinking when my turn is coming, even when I should be enjoying precious moments like birthday parties. Rather than participate in this endless cycle, I choose to remember the beautiful faces of these people smiling from the pictures showed by their families. I will look at Alton Sterling’s image and become more inspired to fight for justice without living under a cloud of rage and without harboring any thoughts of exacting revenge on the shooters or hoping someone else does. None of those thoughts help me work as an upstander to advance peace in our society.
So what will you do? Will you participate in the media-murder circus? Will you watch another murder and justify it somehow in your head? Will you change the channel for something more interesting after your bloodlust has been satisfied? Or will you be moved to do something different? Something better? Something more productive? My hope is that we will be just as proactive in fighting for justice without having to indulge ourselves in a human being’s final moments. If for some reason you must watch the video, ask yourself what it does for you and be honest in your emotions and choose to be proactive and not reactive. That is the best way to honor those unjustly slain and actually show that we feel their pain. It is what these victims need. It is what they deserve.