Last week, video footage of John Crawford’s murder hit social media, showing him setting down the BB gun and not wielding it around like a cartoon villain as certain eyewitnesses suggested. Reactions were mixed. Some felt the video should be required viewing for anyone dismissing the epidemic of state-sanctioned violence. Others, like me, posited that if contrarians have already been dismissing the severity of this epidemic, another video of another black man felled by the Thin Blue Line would do little to sway them.
There is something eerily voyeuristic about watching someone’s life slip away on camera. It’s not like the movies, when someone gets shot and miraculously comes back to life to do a press junket; what we’re seeing is a person literally in the last throes of life. It is jarring and horrific and something to which we should never become desensitized, but I fear that is exactly what is happening. Whether it’s beheadings of journalists in the Middle East or police brutality stateside, we’ve become a nation of ghouls, conspicuously consuming tragedy after tragedy but gleaning little from it. And each time these vignettes make the rounds on social media, the families of the victims are forced to relive the pain.
If we’re serious about protecting the sanctity of human life, perhaps we should start with how we handle death, particularly violent ones caught on film. While there can very well be a teachable moment found betwixt the frames, all too often these incidents become punchlines or political pawns, something to shock and awe. Death as spectator sport is better left to the errs of our past.