Last Wednesday, the cops who killed Breonna Taylor got away with murder.
It’s not lost on me that the announcement that only one cop would be charged — with “wanton endangerment” for shooting into neighbors’ apartments and not Taylor herself — came out on the 65th anniversary of the day Emmett Till’s murderers were declared not guilty. I saw the posts on social media, with the photos of Till and Taylor held up together to remind Black Americans that nothing has changed. Sixty-five years and Black Americans still have our lives taken from us while our murderers live out theirs. In this country, Black lives don’t matter; not to the health care system and certainly not to policing bodies across the nation.
But certainly, Black deaths do.
In the age of social media and the Internet at large, visuals of Black people both dead and dying seem to be readily available. A quick Google search of the video of George Floyd’s murder warrants upward of 8.3 million results, 8.3 million ways to watch a man die a horrific death over a “counterfeit” $20 bill. The worst part? Floyd isn’t the first Black victim of police brutality to have his final moments filmed and broadcasted for the world to see. One of the first instances of police brutality to ever be caught on camera caused enough outrage to spark the 1992 Los Angeles Uprising, and the victim, Rodney King, survived.
The ones who would follow wouldn’t be so lucky. In 2014, we watched Eric Garner die in a chokehold on Staten Island, N.Y. Two years later, it was Alton Sterling being shot point-blank in Baton Rouge, La. and Philando Castile in St. Paul, Minn.
These videos are posted, reposted, retweeted and saved over and over; but why? Raising awareness and sparking outrage appear to be the biggest reasons. It’s necessary, some insist, to make sure this irrefutable proof of the violence of policing bodies is seen by as many people as possible. Without these videos, they cry, how will the world know of this horrible evil that has only plagued our country since the advent of the camera capable of recording film?
In their choice to utilize —and in some instances, capitalize off of — Black deaths to potentially raise awareness and spark outrage, well-meaning social media activists are perpetuating the same violence against Black people that led to the gruesome events caught on tape with no reward. We have 30 years of visuals of Black deaths at the hands of the police, do we really need more of it?
Char Adams, a reporter who focuses on race, gender and identity issues, argues that we’ve gained nothing from all of this. These pictures and videos haven’t gotten us any closer to ending police brutality. Floyd was still suffocated to death despite the viral status of the Garner, Sterling and Castile videos. Jacob Blake was still shot by police in Kenosha, Wis., which is only a five-hour drive away from where Floyd was murdered three months before. The circulation of the Floyd video didn’t stop Kenosha police officers from shooting Blake in the back seven times.
So Black deaths, posted on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere, are not going to save us. To share or repost these videos, especially without warning, is to perpetuate the same anti-Black violence that is put on full display. It’s traumatizing especially for young Black Americans, who must watch someone who could be our brother/sister/mother/father/aunt/uncle/cousin or even us suffer for the whole world to see. It’s traumatizing to see that white America can ignore decades of Black Americans’ dismal relationship with the police, only paying attention once our suffering is put on gruesome display.
We have no videos of Taylor’s death and some could say the three officers of the Louisville Metropolitan Police Department won’t face charges for her death because we cannot see what Taylor did as they stormed into her apartment. What we do have, however, is the continued consumption of Black deaths. Taylor’s name became a war cry, demanding the immediate arrest of the officers who took her life. Now? It’s a meme, and not a single one of the three officers involved have been arrested for her death over six months later.
Taylor was an emergency room technician and an aspiring nurse. She was someone’s daughter, someone’s cousin, someone’s best friend. Now she’s a quirky caption for Riverdale stars to use on their risqué Instagram posts and the name of a convention where she barely appears on the promotional flyer. All of it done in the name of raising awareness and provoking outrage for Taylor’s benefit, but Taylor is still dead and the three officers have only faced consequences for damaging plaster walls.
Taylor, Floyd and countless other victims of police brutality are given T-shirts before they are given justice and that’s tiring. I’m tired of watching people who look like me, who could be me being killed with no repercussions for their killers. I’m tired of watching their deaths on loop just for nothing to happen.
And for our sake, I hope you are, too.
Jordan Hunter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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