When police kill, should you watch?

A video showing the scene at the killing of Philando Castile had — at last check — been removed from Facebook (update: it’s restored), but not before it had already spread worldwide.

Castile, 32, was killed by a St. Anthony police officer who had stopped the vehicle for having a broken tail light. According to reports, when the cop asked for his license and registration, he told the officer he had a permit to carry the gun he had. Seconds later, he was dead.

(Warning: Graphic content follows)

Alton Sterling died on the ground in Baton Rouge on Tuesday at the hands of police. He was selling CDs when he was wrestled to the ground and shot because he had a gun in his pocket. A video captured it all.

Should we watch it?

“These recordings, which are tantamount to snuff films, are shared thousands of times, to the point that they’re hard to avoid — on Twitter, on the morning news, on a TV screen at the gym. For me, these videos are debilitating, senseless violence played over and over again,” April Reign writes in the Washington Post. She’s the managing editor of Broadway Black, the editor at large for Nu Tribe Magazine and the creator of #OscarsSoWhite.

She says watching people begging for their life and then seeing people who look like her killed only increases the fear that she’ll be the next victim of “state-sponsored violence.”

The media is complicit in this morbid voyeurism, when it chooses to be. Horrifying video was shown on morning television of Sterling being killed as a result of state-sanctioned violence. However, when reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward of WDBJ-TV were gunned down on live television, the consensus by the news media was that the video was too graphic to be shown. What distinction was made? Why is the video of white people being killed considered too graphic for replay, but videos of black women, men and children are replayed on a seemingly endless loop to the point of numbness? In the same way that we do not show the lethal executions of prisoners, one wonders how the media justifies depicting the death of non-imprisoned citizens at the hands of the same system.

I would argue that there is no “responsible” way for these videos to be used by media outlets. Sharing them serves no purposes except feeding prurient interests, even if one must voluntarily click on a link for the video to be shown. Choosing to broadcast these videos on television when there may be children in the room seems reckless at best. While I understand that our culture has become increasingly violent in entertainment, I submit that even young children can discern a distinct difference between a fictional character and knowing that someone who looks like your father, your brother, your aunt, has been gunned down.

Showing the videos won’t change anyone’s mind, she argues. Instead, it will dehumanize people of color and use their pain to provide perverse entertainment.

Renée Graham, a Boston Globe columnist, was leaning the same way, she writes. “Enough with these grainy snuff films, enough with the police-involved deaths of black people played for ratings,” she said.

Then she remembered Mamie Till Mobley, she says.

In 1955, she sent her 14-year-old son, Emmett Till, to spend the summer with relatives in Money, Miss. A week after his arrival from Chicago, Till was abducted from his uncle’s home by two white men who beat and mutilated him. His assailants shot him, tied a 70-pound fan around his neck, and tossed his body into the Tallahatchie River.

Between his savage murder and the time his body spent submerged, Till was horribly disfigured, unrecognizable as the handsome teenager he had been. Yet when his corpse was returned to Chicago, his mother insisted on a public service with an open casket.

“There was just no way I could describe what was in that box. No way. And I just wanted the world to see,” Mobley said at the time. “I wanted the world to see what they did to my baby.” Tens of thousands attended; some were so overcome, they fainted. When photos were published in Jet magazine and the Chicago Defender, both black publications, it ignited the civil rights movement.

We don’t have the right to turn away, Graham argues.

We’ve endured too many of these deaths with no great sense that anything has changed. It’ll be two years next week since [Eric] Garner was choked to death by a white New York City police officer, two years next month since Michael Brown was killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., sparking the Black Lives Matter movement.

Still, if not for videos like the Sterling killing, we wouldn’t be having these conversations at all. They amplify what black communities have been shouting for decades about police misconduct. Some recently have denounced actor and activist Jesse Williams’ electrifying speech about race at the BET Awards, but this is to what he alluded: the institutional racism that devalues and endangers black lives. Yes, this video is disturbing, but not so much that it does not merit our attention. Complacency is complicity.

As I read Graham’s piece last night, I thought back to 1986. After decades of apartheid, the world finally was paying attention to huge funerals, civil unrest, and inner-city bombings as an enslaved population rose against its oppressors.

Apartheid, it seemed, could not last much longer.

And so P.W. Botha, then the president of South Africa, declared a state of emergency and ordered the foreign TV crews to leave the country and began arresting photographers.

Without the visuals, the world media — and, thus, the world — moved on to other things.

It would be several years before Nelson Mandela was freed from prison and apartheid ended.

Archive: What if someone hadn’t filmed officer shooting? (NewsCut)