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 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 in the Hebdo shooting 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.
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).
Read: Stages of What Happens When There’s Injustice Against Black People
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.
@luvvie, right on point and right on time. I had to explain the Walter Scott shooting to my 4-yr old as she saw it on the news and her 4 yr old mind could not understand why the guy won’t get to rise after three days (she got it all confused with Easter). I am sick to my stomach of seeing these videos. The truth you laid out is that we are being desensitized to it all. After seeing it a million times in the past year, my tears only run half way down my cheeks. Too many lost in a little time. I weep for my people.
I have heard about the incident and read about it, but I refused to watch the video. A male friend couldn’t understand my fear. He said why not watch? It’s not bad. There isn’t any blood. It is a short clip. I still refused and I couldn’t articulate my refusal, but this article just spoke for me. I can’t watch death. My mind paints its own picture from words — vivid HD pictures. What is happening to our Black men and ultimately our black families is horrifying beyond words.
The fact that the phrasing “it’s not bad” (even though I understand that he was specifically applying it to seeing blood/gore) was used was sobering for me…because it’s bad, it is bad…sans blood and a lengthier clip…it is so damned bad.
As usual you have articulated exactly, EXACTLY, what so many of us think. Another great post; sad truth is still truth just the same.
“I am fresh the hell out of optimism because we are stuck in Groundhog Day: Police Brutality edition.”
This right here! Smh
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This post was very much needed. I have not watched ANY of the videos showing people getting killed. I flat out refuse. I have no desire to watch anyone lose their life. This is not a movie. Or a TV show. This is not entertainment. These are not actors. These are REAL. PEOPLE. I don’t want to watch a REAL person get murdered. That is voyeurism at a level that I want no part of.
Luvvie you are so right when you state that we as a society are getting desensitized to violence in general, and to violence against black people in particular. This is a very dangerous slippery slope, and it would not surprise me at all if it’s happening by design.
Thank you for writing this. There’s a lot more I could say but for right now and until I find better words, Thank you will have to do
Your article. I am breathless. Almost speechless, but the strength and the examination of how the media treats Black bodies is a painful, and sickening truth. It reminds me of the postcards of not-so-yesteryear, where bodies were hung and burnt, put on display with smiling White faces pointing and standing underneath. Their offspring are still in this world, perpetuating these images. We aren’t granted the blur or the squares of dignity. We don’t even get to be seen as victims–“research” into our pasts get to dictate who we were. And I guess that is supposed to justify our deaths. Then the “fair and just” juries turn their heads and say “not enough evidence”, and “not guilty”.
We are not respect as living beings, and especially not in death. It is a show, it is ratings, it is indeed something to be duplicated for the joy and interest of others. They do this to all non-White bodies, but BLACK ones especially. I don’t see how any editor or producer can sit behind a screen and create graphics and cuts with someone’s DEATH playing on the screen.
A part of me feels like “maybe they’re doing this for shock value to wake this damned country up”, but let’s be honest–we keep screaming “Wake up!” and people keep hitting the snooze button. They’d rather rationalize why a person deserved what they got than to face the awful truth. But we have to get over that truth, right? We can’t bring up race because then we’re making everything about race. We can’t talk about respect because we have to tap dance to the beat of an acceptable humility drum to get it.
I was horrified to see the bodies of my brothers and sisters sprawled in black and white in Nigeria. HORRIFIED that friends of mine and family who had no common doggone sense decided to post and reblog those pictures.
I never have understood the mindset of people who take and post pictures of the dead–and I am speaking of Black bodies–in the street. That would never be right in my soul all my days if I decided to do something like THAT. I NEVER WOULD.
I also hoped that there would never be a day when death would come back to back. There are so many hashtags and new stories. I cannot keep up. It hurts my heart and puts fear into my soul for every (Black) man of my family, for every (Black) I do not know. I fear for all non-White PoC who have to navigate this world full of cops who’re always “making mistakes” and “fearing for their lives”, and then getting to walk free into the sunset–usually with millions of dollars of sympathy donations in their pockets.
The other day I was watching MSNBC as I often do I will watch Rachel Maddow followed by Chris Matthews. The previous night Rachel Maddow made it a point to only show the video of Walter Scott once she prefaced that the video was violent and showing someone’s death and that she was only going to show it once etc. etc. because she gave fair warning I was able to avoid looking at it as I have been doing as the video has been playing online. I did not want to see the video. The next night, however, Chris Matthews had an interview with the gentleman who shot the video and in the background of the gentleman’s interview they showed the video over and over and over and over on infinite repeat. So when I came back to the television after having been in the kitchen there it was and I saw the video whether I wanted to or not. No warnings, no nothing just playing the video over and over again in the background whether I wanted to see it or not. It just felt like a violent violation of my mental space. (And sidenote but having been born and raised in Los Angeles and having lived through the Rodney King episode, I only have so much hopefulness that the existence of the video will make a difference anyway.)
Anyway thank you for such an excellent piece.
We started a whatsapp group with some cousins of mine a while ago–with a view to staying in touch. After the Garissa attacks in Kenya (I’m from Kenya), some of them decided to share the gory images of the murdered students on this forum. I didn’t see the images immediately but found them on my phone later, as I was looking for something else. I deleted them. Two days after deleting said images, someone else decided to share the images, and I told them I had completely had it with this complete disregard for human dignity. Needless to say, it turned into a fierce argument and some people even left the group. I wondered why I felt so passionately about the desensitization to human dignity– we share images/videos of dead people so casually. Is this a result of watching too much gore/death on Tv, I wonder. Who are these people that take these images? What is their motive?
Your entire post is the complete TRUTH!
This is classic white Americana. They’ve always loved the very public lynchings of Black people. No matter what laws you petition for them to change, they will always always find a way to interpret the laws to suit their own interests and conduct business as usual.
Nothing as changed. These news outlets pretending to be “concerned” and showing footage of Black people being murdered …they’re really just doing the same thing as years ago when people bought and sold postcards (and souvenirs! body parts!) of the latest lynching victim.
Nothing has changed.
None of this is surprising.
This is all of what I couldn’t find the words to say. These people killed aren’t actors. Those are real people and I refuse to dishonor their death by clicking and watching like it is any other viral video. Those sisters and brothers gunned down in Africa could/are our cousins who deserve better. Our brothers and sisters killed for playing, walking, living could be any of us. I thought Faces of Death had been outlawed in several states but yet, here it pops up on new stations and Facebook feeds. The least we can do is honor those in death who are disrespected in life. I thank you for putting my feelings and so many others in such strengthening words.
This! This right here!!! I literally had this conversation with my husband this morning about the media repeatedly and unapologetically playing all the videos over and over and over again… To desensitize us to the killings, to make it seem normal, the more you see something the less it shocks you. We are not stupid America.. We realize this is the same shit Hitler pulled when killing Jews. He made people watch over and over and over until it became second nature!
We black people have far too long been the victim of desensitization… It is written in our history, built into our DNA… We have been forgotten, beaten, held down, and abused for so long that it has become the norm, and when something happens truly shocking, truly mind boggling, and we begin to march, we use our influence, we use our creativity to bring attention.. And when the “man” says uh oh these N words are about to take over, are getting hip, are trying to take control… They use the oldest tricks in their racist ass history books to distract us…
My soul is tired… My spirit is tired.. I could go on and on but I ain’t saying nothing that no one else hasn’t said… So I’m going to leave it right there
More people should read the book Ghettoside by Jill Leovy.
This book and her theory explains a way to come to grips with the death that is a part of black culture in this country.
I live in Chicago. The south side looks exactly the same as it did in the 1960’s, when I first moved to this city.
I wish your words would never have to be felt or expressed, ever, but it’s true… our American culture doesn’t value black lives. I don’t know why that is… or what virus needs to be eradicated in our psyche to stop this brutal bullshit, but, as a white, privileged male, I offer my sincerest condolences for you and everyone living in fear of being harassed, abused, or murdered for the color of your skin.
This post was right on time. It was everything that was on my mind and then some. I think that is a big part of why I stopped watching news programs a year ago. I started to recognize that it is the media’s way of programming the public on what to think. So for me the best thing to do was to stop watching.
I think what is going on in our society is so very painful and detrimental to all of us. At some point, there needs to be a catalyst for change. It is really too depressing to think about and I think many of us feel helpless about how to put an end to all of this.
However, I do thank you Luvvie for being that one brave voice that keeps saying this is wrong.
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Thank you for expressing this Luvvie. You are gifted in your ability to articulate something that many of us have been suffering silently. People are de-sensitized.
I have not watched any of the videos and it has taken a huge effort because they are everywhere. Just like the ISIS execution videos. Just like 911 calls by someone who was calling to try and save their lives – they are played for hooking our attention to the emotion.
When people ask me “Have you seen the video” and I say “no”, they try to fill in the description for me and I have to cut them off saying “I’d rather not hear it”. They are puzzled and think I’m weird. That’s how bad the desensitization is. You hear things daily that you shouldn’t hear in a lifetime.
[…] to be commodifying black death, exploiting it, turning it into little more than pornography which desensitizes the public to its horror. Rarely did we see a trigger warning attached to the video of Eric Garner’s death which starts […]
[…] a post entitled “About Images of Black Death and the Groundhog Day of Police Brutality” blogger Luvvie critiques the huge number of images depicting Black death and pain on the internet […]
[…] chanted #BlackLivesMatter for months now and what have we seen from it? The proliferation of the images of black death all over media, the continued silence or denials of those who claim to be “post-racial,” governments that […]
For a minute when reading your post, I wanted to contradict you because I thought, “surely there have been other images of massacres where the victims were not black?” But then I did a quick search on the Pakistani school massacre that took place in December last year, and lo and behold, of the 12 or so images that pop up first, only two or three show signs of the victims, and one of them is covered up in funeral wrappings. Other images are of their loved ones wailing in grief and the blood and destruction of the school. So Luvvie, you’re right. I was hoping I could say it’s only those who are not-white, but no, no, no. It’s those who are black whose death must be paraded so that it’s devalued.
Thank you, Luvvie. We’ve been classified as disaster porn(Katrina, Haiti), niggasain’tshit porn (WSHH, BET), and now tragedy porn. I’ve been watching and noting how these messages are not even trying to be subliminal anymore. Overall, it is a throwback to paint the picture that the only good one is a dead one. As my beloved Sunni Patterson says, “We know this place”.
About 127 people died in France NOT 12. You need to get your facts right before posting such an article. you were making good points up until then n then I couldn’t read any more cos how do I know if the rest of what you write is correct? Please do not mislead people.
If your goofass looked at the date this piece was written, and actually READ it, you’d know the occurrence in France was the Charles Hebdo team that was killed. I wrote this piece April 2015. BUT READING IS OVERRATED.
My most humble apologies. Sorry to the writer and the readers. I just realised myself that it’s about Charlie Hebdo n not the recent attacks. I was wrong.
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Truth. Every single, solitary word. I feel numb and depressed. And unfortunately I have zero faith in our judicial system that justice will be done. These muders are NOT a coincidence. The media’s constant looping of the filmed deaths of our people is NOT a coincidence. Just damn depressing.
It blows me away that anyone can watch those videos at all, never mind just shrug them off afterwards. Especially when you add in the fact that not one of those people will get the justice they deserve. It’s disgusting.
Thank you Luvvie for articulating all of this. I haven’t been able to explain my feelings, I just have an overwhelming sense from my conscience that it is morally wrong to continue to view or promote these videos. It’s not because I am “sensitive” as some have accused me of. I feel like I’m violating the victim’s human dignity. I can get the gist of the story with a still picture and a brief description. But to go all in? No. I will probably lose friends over this but I am taking a stand.
[…] Groundhog Day for millions of Black Americans as Luvvie Ajayi explains. […]
[…] About Images of Black Death and the Groundhog Day of Police Brutality by Luvvie Ajai is not a new post, but like so many others, it remains relevant. (A statement in itself.) She offers an important perspective about the number of videos of Black men being killed, and asks the difficult question about whether they’re helping to bring about justice or just “torture porn.” […]
It’s July 7, 2016.
Nothing has changed.
[…] For thoughts about watching (or not) videos of police assaults, check out Luvvie’s post About Images of Black Death and Groundhog Day of Police Brutality. […]