By now, I am sure many of you have seen the graphic images, videos, and transcripts of the multiple victimizations of people, mostly black males, at the hands of police officers. The images have been shared, tweeted, and referenced on numerous occasions in the media and social networks. Are these images damaging to the psyche of those who view them? Do they serve the role of catalysts for some, usually those of privilege in denial that racism, sexism, homophobia and systematic oppression exists? Also, do watching these names help the viewer familiarize themselves with the names of the victims like Sam Dubose, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Alton Sterling, or Philando Castile.
My issue with these videos are that they are being used as “faux advocacy” tools. Many people share these videos because they feel the best way to show advocacy or “proof” that police violence is happening is by sharing the videos. They do so with good intentions mostly and many of the video sharers just want to get the awareness to the general population. It is an understandable mistake when you think back to the public calls for the Sandra Bland video inside the jail or the bodycam from the Sam Dubose murder. But, the key difference in those cases were that the videos could hold evidence that could potentially be used to prosecute the offenders, cops who murdered unarmed or innocent people. In both cases, the videos were needed to show that mistreatment and an error in procedure took place even though it was denied by officers. That is the key difference in advocacy versus unintended psychological warfare. If the video has been shared and reviewed by all parties involved in the case, there isn’t a reason for it to be continually shared through social media. If the video is being withheld from the family and officials, it needs to be shared. Visual evidence procured by cell phones, body cams, and security cameras have definitely brought more focus to the systematic violence against people of color, but what started as a useful tool has become another weapon against the oppressed.
“Fatal Shootings By US Police Officers in 2015: A Bird’s Eye View,” a research study conducted by the University of Louisville and University of South Carolina suggests that, “the police exhibit shooter bias by falsely perceiving blacks to be a greater threat than non-blacks to their safety.” What this means is that as a whole, police perceive black bodies as dangerous and threatening based on preconceived notions, stereotypes or prejudice. Like many of these officers, viewers (many of them white) of the video assume that a crime must have taken place or that the officers must have had probable cause for their actions. They watch the gruesome video and click to the next thing on their feed. Viewers don’t engage with these videos. They don’t research the names of the victims and officers. They don’t use the video to inspire work with people of color. They don’t do the heavy lifting. It is hard to have empathy with an image because the people in the videos aren’t humanized. They are pixels, tubes, and colors. They are “thugs” or “criminals” or “the bad ones.” That general categorization is part of the problem with the sharing of these videos. Rather than research the incident, they quickly categorize people as right or wrong, good or evil, cop or criminal. They take the humanity of a person being victimized and replace them with a statistic, a number, or just a label.
The brutalization of black bodies has been videotaped, shared, retweeted and posted to numerous websites and news media channels lately. This practice is not new. During the lynching era (1800s to the 1960s), the practice of sending pictures, post-cards, and souvenirs were a common practice. White citizens would circulate these objects as mementos or “proof” of the killing. The practice of sharing the gruesome images of charred, beaten, shot, and damaged bodies was seen as enjoyment for some. Is this still the case? I don’t know, but one has to asks who does it benefit to continually broadcast a dead body? A dead black body. So this practice has never gone away, thus why many of the Black Lives Matter Movement is calling this viral video sensation, “modern day lynching.”
It is okay to want to be an active participant against police brutality, gun violence and systematic oppression. But, you should take actions that can help the community. Instead of posting the video, you could write a letter to the police departments sharing your concern. You can actually post your opinions, suggestions or solutions to police brutality. You can engage with your local activist community. You can even just pass over the video and don’t share it. The choice is yours, but I suggest you try to highlight the problem rather than create a bigger one.