OPINION: Consuming police brutality

Doxey Kamara, Intersections Editor

Will Embree

Tyre Nichols is not the first Black man to be killed by law enforcement officers.

Tyre Nichols isn’t even the first Black man whose death at the hands of police was caught on camera.

Right now, if you chose to, you could watch a recording of his death. Just like George Floyd. Just like Eric Garner. Just like Walter Scott. 

These videos aren’t difficult to find — and neither are opinions about them — but this article is not about those videos. This article is about you, the viewer. You, like most people with an internet connection, could find and watch these deaths in a heartbeat.

But just because they are available, does not mean they should be consumed.

Some might say that these videos can illustrate the importance of police reform. Watching them could allow viewers to develop their own opinions or verbalize why police brutality is bad. In theory, these videos could shock people into awareness. 

Ja’han Jones, writing for MSNBC,  counters this line of thought. “There’s been a school of thought that says exposing the public — particularly, the white public — to the grotesqueness of these acts will jar people from their willful ignorance of anti-Black police violence.” 

“But in this scenario,” Jones said, “Black justice hinges entirely on white sympathy.” 

Watching the video will not suddenly demonstrate that police brutality is bad: if that was ever up for question, it wouldn’t be called brutality. On the other hand, watching these videos normalizes that people should only expect justice for cases where one can feel for the victim. Flawed systems do not always produce sympathetic victims — and not every victim gets a recorded, publicized incident.

As an individual, watching the video may not change your stance on the events it records. If you believe that the police were in the wrong, and you condemn their extrajudicial killing of the victim, watching the victim’s death likely won’t challenge that belief. On a political level, watching and distributing this footage is not guaranteed to jar anyone into changing their minds — it may not even challenge them to recontextualize the event.

On a personal level, repeated exposure to these incidents and videos can desensitize or traumatize viewers. Fictional entertainment has no shortage of violence, but it’s also not the same as watching a real person die while pleading for his mother. Black viewers in particular may find these deaths damaging to their mental health.

Systemic reform is possible, but it won’t be achieved by watching another Black person die. Change is not achieved by watching injustice — change is achieved by reacting to it.

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