Why Live Video of Police Violence Is So Traumatic — and So Revolutionary
The shooting of Philando Castile, captured on Facebook Live, was a watershed moment because it brought technology to bear on our emotions, complicating the good guy vs. bad guy narrative.
Wesley Lowery is a national reporter for the Washington Post who covers law enforcement, justice, race and politics. He previously covered Congress and national politics. Prior to joining the Washington Post in February 2014, he worked as a breaking news and local politics reporter for the Boston Globe, and has also reported for the Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal. In 2014, he was named the National Association of Black Journalists' "Emerging Journalist of the Year." Follow him on Twitter @WesleyLowery.
Wesley Lowery: What I think is remarkable even in the time that we’ve been having this conversation if you trace the beginning of the current conversation to 2014, maybe to Ferguson or to Eric Gardner, right. How much the technology has developed and how the tools are now there in ways that they are not. It’s easy to forget that just two years ago when Ferguson was happening there was no live video capacity the same way. There were live streamers who were out there but there was no Periscope or Meerkat. There was no Facebook Live. There wasn’t even Twitter video yet. In order to upload video people had to use Vine or Instagram, right. And so what this allows is, the same way that all social media creates kind of a more democratic media process. People in real time can share their own stories. Live video allows us physical access to things that we never would have had otherwise. I mean the video that Diamond Reynolds takes of her boyfriend Philando Castile after he’s shot changes the world, changes our perception of these shootings, starts what ends up being one of the flashpoints around these issues where we go from beginning with Alton Sterling then Philando Castile and then to Dallas. And without that video it’s very unlikely that officer would have been charged as he has been now. And it’s unlikely we would even know the name Philando Castile. And so that tool, that ability for her in two taps of her phone to start sharing with the world the moment she was in is like I said it just has the capacity to change the world. It was that video was just so remarkable in that it was traumatic. As you watched it you felt like you were physically there, in the car and someone’s just been shot by the police. That was different than the feeling of the Eric Gardner video, even the Walter Scott video in part if only because we knew it had been live. And I think that was just a, like I said it was just a turning point I think in the way video has manifested and has played a role in these cases.
The major question that lies at the heart of our inability to deal with and to actually create changes to a system that would lead to the decrease in use of fatal force is a refusal to believe black and brown people. Black and brown people have been saying for generations that this was the case. They were being beat up. They were being pulled over, getting arrested on fraudulent charges and we essentially for generations said we don’t believe you. We’ve had case after case for decades, for years of people who are unarmed or who were shot in the back, who there was a weapon perhaps planted and we, the media, and we are as a society just did not believe these people. What video has done is expose the level to which our refusal to validate the stories of people of color and people who are telling us about this trauma they’re going through, the extent to which that has masked injustices. That now that we can see this with our own eyes we can see that some of these shootings should not be happening and that someone should be held accountable for some of them. So yes, I think it’s just a window into a world that has always existed.
These videos are forcing us to look at things we otherwise don’t want to see. I think that out of discomfort potentially comes change, right. That we have for generations willfully ignored this. We don’t want to talk about this. We don’t want to talk about police reform. We don’t want to believe that that dead man perhaps didn’t deserve to be killed. We want our police shootings and our killings by police officers, we want them to fit into a tight little narrative. We want to be able to put a bow on them and say well, police shoot bad guys and that’s what happens and we want to absolve ourselves emotionally of having to think about it anymore. And I think that what video does is it complicates that narrative. It complicates this good guy/bad buy narrative, right. We teach our kids to play cops and robbers, right. That these interactions with the police are on this binary where either you’re the cop or you’re the robber. The cop is always the good guy and the robber is always the bad guy. And I think that what we see it brought to light via this protest movement and via this moment where we’re talking about policing with this nuance and this level is that that is not, in fact, how it always works. And then you have police shootings of people perhaps even who were the bad guys, who had committed a crime. But that does not erase the question of okay, but should this person be dead. And there’s a nuance there, right. And I think that again that’s a nuance that we’re uncomfortable with. We’re very often uncomfortable questioning that type of police authority because it raises these real questions about what is the role of the government and the police in our lives and who should be dead and who should not be. But I think that, I definitely think that video beautifully complicates that and forces us to grapple with what might actually lead to different outcomes, right. And I think that that’s kind of the point of what a lot of the activism has been about.
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