About Images of Black Death and the Groundhog Day of Police Brutality
Have you heard of the Black man named Eric who police had pinned to the concrete and he told them he can’t breathe and they didn’t give a shit and we watched his last moments on video because he shortly after he said that? Oh no, I’m not talking about Eric Garner; Eric Harris. It is another day and another hashtag.
This is a week after the execution of Walter Scott. Both of them are on camera for us to see. Both Walter Scott and Eric Harris had their last breaths taped. Eric was even told “Fuck your breath” as he was dying. We also have footage of 12-year old Tamir Rice being killed because police thought he had a gun (it was a BB gun).
Footage. Video. Tapes. They exist in droves now. But what is the purpose? What good have they done? In the case of Eric Garner’s death, it did nothing to bring justice. His killer walked free. In the case of Walter Scott, his killer got charged with murder and we celebrated because our standards are now so low that a CHARGE feels like justice. We shall await the trial where a jury of people who probably don’t look like Walter will be left to decide.
But these videos of Black men being killed, unarmed and vulnerable are all over the web and I can’t watch them. For me, it goes beyond trying to show people what is happening. It goes past that because we’ve seen in the past that even with video, we still might not get justice. These videos are desensitizing us to violence being perpetuated against Black people. They are desensitizing us to Black death, because the more we see it, the less we’re jarred. Even in our acute feelings of rage, constantly being exposed to certain imagery will make it more digestible the next time it is seen. It’s called Exposure Therapy.
It is absolutely working because Black death is treated too frivolously. People are so casual about seeing us lifeless that we don’t even get trigger warnings. We get autoplay videos at the top of articles on websites. AUTOPLAY! Walter Scott’s execution video and pictures were omnipresent this past week, shown on television and placed all in social media feeds.
Did these pictures come with trigger warnings? Not often. People trigger warning EVERYTHING now. *trigger warning* GLUTEN AND SUGAR. But shit. Trigger warning THIS. Trigger warning the fact that a trigger from a cop has taken another Black person’s life. It seems that a Black person dying is no longer graphic enough to warrant a warning.
We treat Black bodies too callously. I saw pics of bodies of those killed in Nigeria during one of the Boko Haram attacks. I saw more than enough pictures of the bodies of those students who were killed in Garissa, Kenya. People kept uploading those pictures all under the guise of getting our attention and making us care.
Why do we feel the need to show the lifeless bodies of Black people before we can come up with empathy? If we need to see blood run from people’s skulls to be affected by their deaths, then we are monsters. Even in our outrage, it is a spectacle. It’s almost like we have to prove that the same blood we have is the same everyone else has. SEE???? RED. JUST LIKE YOURS. As it runs out their pumping heart. As it stains the sidewalk. As it dries in the streets for 6 hours.
People are fiercely protective of white death. But Black people? SURE HERE’S A PICTURE OF HIS HEAD BLOWN OFF. NOW YOU CAN FEEL BAD. Did we need to see the bodies of the frenchmen killed to say “Je suis Charlie?” Did we need to see the bodies of the little kids in Newtown to cry for their parents? Did we need to see the heads of the men beheaded by ISIS to decry terrorism? No, we did not.
That also brings me to the glaring fact that all over the world, Black lives are continuously de-valued and treated like less than. I woke up this morning, thinking of Kenya, and how 147 people died in Garissa but the world isn’t standing with them. The media isn’t covering it relentlessly. People have almost forgot. 12 people died in France and we stood and chanted “Je Suis Charlie” as they were martyred for dying for freedom of speech. World leaders went to Paris to March. For 12 people.
Let’s quantify this for a hot second and put THE MATHS into it. Ok, 147 divided by 12 is approximately 12. Ok so 1 white life gone is still more valuable than 12 Black ones. Or am I getting too specific? Is it apples and oranges? Stop me if it is. This message is constant. It is undeniable. It is perpetual. It is EXHAUSTING and it is traumatizing.
This is also why I am not France. You don’t need me to be France because they are handled. I AM Kenya. They look like me. I am them. I am Nigeria, the country I was born. I am not France.
Again, we didn’t see one video or picture of the scene at the Charlie Hebdo offices. Those images didn’t magically replicate and make it all over the web. Why? Because white death is treated sacredly. Black people. Even in DEATH, we still don’t get humanity, and this breaks my heart.
I say this, and people will counter-point and say that we NEED to see the videos of our men and women and girls and boys being killed so we can know the truth and see some change. The existence of video is good because we finally have evidence of the systemic murder of Black people. However, my larger point is that the way people are being so cavalier about how this imagery is being handled is what is not ok. This is psychological warfare, and we are being used as tragedy porn.
If the point of all this video is to bring some change, then change should have come a while ago. In the last 6 months, we’ve seen videos of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, and now Eric Harris. Ok then. Now what? How many executions of white people have we seen videos of, though? Even then, they protect those and those pics don’t magically replicate.
The volunteer police man who chased Eric Harris wanted to reach for his taser, but pulled his gun instead and sent a bullet through his back. The man was face down on concrete and three police men pinned him down. He said “My breath” and one of them replied with “Fuck your breath.” That seems to be every police force’s motto about Black people.
According to the website KilledByPolice.net, 322 people have been killed by police in the United States in 2015 alone. That is one every eight hours. Are most of them people of color? It is safe to assume YES. This is a national illness and it is an epidemic. ANY illness that has a new victim every 8 hours will be considered an epidemic by the Center for Disease Control (see: HIV/AIDS). Police brutality is an epidemic and this one is passed on even when you’re sleeping in your house (Aiyana Jones), playing on some swings (Tamir Rice), or walking in your neighborhood (Mike Brown).
I am fresh the hell out of optimism because we are stuck in Groundhog Day: Police Brutality edition. I am out of productive words. I just want to throw a tantrum because every day, Black people in America live in fear of being yet another hashtag. Now, we can’t even sit in denial or ignorant bliss because there’s ample footage of unarmed citizens being shot down in the streets.
We have video. But will it bring us justice or is it just torture porn to let us know that not only are we being murdered but no amount of proof will bring punishment to the thugs in blue?
Oh and you wanna see some bullshit? A white family got into a BRAWL with police. An 8-minute long brawl. Finally, one of them disarms one of the cops and shoots him. That is when he gets shot and killed. Only him. Had it been a Black family? EVERYBODY woulda been shot execution style. White privilege. Must be nice.
I am exhausted. And today, my Black Lives Matter chant would only come out as a whisper.