“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories and debates.
On May 25, a 17-year-old recorded a video that changed the world. Darnella Frazier’s video of the police killing of George Floyd sparked mass protests across the United States, leading to a racial reckoning that is continuing to affect nearly all parts of society.
The video and clips from it drew the attention of millions. The officers onscreen have been arrested and charged, and in the weeks since, countless videos of police brutality have appeared on social media. Other videos of police brutality against Black people, including Philando Castile, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and countless others, have also spurred calls for police reform and antiracism.
There’s a long history of widely shared images of Black people in pain or dying. During the Civil War era, an image of the raised scars on the back of an escaped slave galvanized Northerners to sympathize with abolitionist movements. But in the late 1800s and early 1900s, white people created “lynching postcards,” sharing images of the killings of Black people with friends and family. As technology evolved, more Black people started documenting atrocities themselves — from Ida B. Wells’s work chronicling lynchings to photos of Emmett Till’s mutilated body. The images of Till, which were published in Black newspapers, are credited with helping shock people into supporting the civil rights movement.
Why there’s debate
Most people agree that the documentation of these incidents is historically valuable. Videos provide proof of what happened, acting as evidence in the pursuit of justice. However, there is debate over how such videos should be treated by the general public and the press, especially in the age of social media.
Some say there is value in videos like these going viral. They can galvanize movements and bring attention to an incident, which helps pressure authorities to respond. In recent weeks, several videos have led to disciplinary action. Images and videos also force people to face the truth: Though decades apart, the mothers of both Till and Elijah McClain said they want people to see photos of their dead Black sons and bear witness to what happened to them.
But others point out that videos of police brutality have been going viral for years and there hasn’t been systemic change. The circumstances that led to the incident in the first place are still in place, they say. Millions of views and shares aren’t the same as a conviction, they say. Plus, Black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) shouldn’t have to film police brutality and racism to prove they exist. The mass dissemination of these videos also leads to ethical questions over who has the privilege of suffering in private, as the bulk are BIPOC — it’s rare to see a viral video of a white person in pain.
Finally, there’s the psychological effects of these videos. Psychologists say Black people can be traumatized by viewing these videos repeatedly. Experts also worry that watching too many videos of police brutality leads to dehumanization of Black people in the videos and desensitizes non-BIPOC to their pain.
As the racial reckoning continues and more videos of police brutality and other incidents emerge, some experts recommend that we consume and engage with these videos in a more thoughtful manner.
These images are important and shape our national conversation
“It powerfully shapes our discourse, much like the images of African-American youth in the South who were being sprayed with powerful water hoses and bitten by police dogs when they protested during the Civil Rights Movement. As disturbing as these images are, as tragic as it is for individuals who’ve lost their lives, or who have been abused in these circumstances, the reality is that their victimization is not in vain." — Brian Smedley to USA Today
Images can catalyze movements and need to be seen
“It wasn’t until things were made visual in the civil rights movement that we really saw folks come out and being shocked into movement. ... To publish those photographs [of Emmett Till] in black publications so the entire Black world, like our Facebook or our Twitter now, right, so that the whole Black world could see what had happened.” — Melina Abdullah in documentary 13th
As Elijah McClain’s mother, I want you to look at images of my son
“I’ve been showing people the before and after pictures of Elijah, and a lot of people are saying that that’s not respectful to Black people and that people shouldn’t be dehumanizing him with those pictures. He was dehumanized by those police officers. So if you cannot look at him in those pictures, you cannot look at the truth.” — Sheneen McClain to Yahoo News
Videos show everyone the reality of police brutality
“Because of the smartphone, America and the world are seeing in vivid detail the brutality that communities have known for generations. … I do believe people are seeing the injustice of it all and are prepared to take action in a way that we’ve not seen before.” — Sen. Kamala Harris to the New York Times
These videos are causing journalists to question their reliance on police accounts
“In several ... cases, cellphone video of the incident offered a dramatic contradiction of the first police accounts.” — Paul Farhi and Elahe Izadi, Washington Post
We shouldn’t need videos to prove police brutality exists
“Anyone who needs one more video to believe the injustices around us, either refuses to learn or is content with the violence. #BlackLivesMatter is a call for everyone to take greater care with black lives.” — Melanye Price, New York Times
Videos haven’t changed the systems that make police brutality possible
“For nearly 30 years, viral videos of police brutality and white supremacy have been shared to shock and mobilize, while barely putting a dent in the systems that make this brutality possible. It’s time for the nation to think deeply not only about the purpose of sharing these videos, but who benefits from them most.” — Char Adams, Insider
Videos of police brutality are traumatizing for Black people
“I can only describe the continued viewing of racial violence, torture, murder and disregard for the humanity of black bodies as repetitive trauma.” — Danielle Jackson to USA Today
We are becoming desensitized to videos of BIPOC being killed
“We don’t share white death like this. ... How many white men have you watched die in [high-definition] video? Can you name five? I bet you can’t name 10. The video footage is shorthand for desensitization. Ask yourself why you’re even comfortable looking at a video of someone being murdered. Then ask why you’d share it with everyone you know.” — Akilah Hughes, “What a Day” podcast via Tampa Bay Times
We should treat these videos like lynching photos — with great respect
“Likening the fatal footage of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd to lynching photographs invites us to treat them more thoughtfully. We can respect these images. We can handle them with care. In the quiet, final frames, we can share their last moments with them, if we choose to. We do not let them die alone.” — Allissa V. Richardson, The Conversation
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Cover thumbnail photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Getty Images