I woke up in a great mood yesterday, which was quickly derailed by the ongoing social media coverage of Alton Sterling’s murder. The only thing that salvaged the morning was the gap-toothed photos of his bright smile and collage of him alongside his wife and beautiful babies. When I read the initial headlines, I vowed I would not view or share the footage of his murder. Yet, I could not avoid glimpses of the video as it came across my Facebook news feed on auto-play.
I struggled with understanding how anyone would feel that viewing the video of his gruesome, untimely murder would be positive for his or her mental well-being.
I was still feeling the impact of the world’s reaction to Sterling’s killing when the footage of Philando Castile’s shooting began to circulate less than 24 hours later. I read the reports of Castile’s murder, just as I had earlier with Sterling, to get the details of the case. Again it was the same narrative: A Black man killed shortly after being approached by a member of the police force. This time, a young man was shot while his girlfriend and young daughter bore witness.
Just as I cannot imagine the pain of losing my husband or boyfriend in such a violent, senseless manner – I cannot imagine the video of his killing being so casually disseminated across social media channels. These images have the power to cause trauma. While they deeply resonate with those who value the lives of Black men, they do not impact those who have created a social environment ripe for hate crimes.
In 1999, MTV ran a pro-social campaign to raise awareness about hate crimes. I remember watching as the names and faces of hundreds of slain Americans scrolled on-screen all day. One story that resonated with me was a Black man and his 2 young daughters that were killed because he was dating a White woman. I had dated across color lines since my parents allowed me to start dating, without realizing I could be killed for my decision to do so. It was enough to make remind me of the racial injustice in this country. TV networks should run similar programming today.
As I read the discourse on Facebook today, reflecting open despondence or warnings of an inevitable race war, I could not help but wonder why some are in shock, while many of us never had the luxury of being ignorant. Racism and hate are real. You can be physically harmed because of your ethnicity, skin color, or sexual orientation. You can be physically harmed by association. You can be physically harmed by a stranger, a neighbor, or a member of the community with police authority. This is a harsh reality of life in America and across the world.
Sharing violent images of death on social media can normalize an event we should not allow ourselves to become desensitized to. Viewing graphic images can be traumatic, leaving you feeling disempowered and unable to cope. An absence of footage of the recent slayings in Orlando did not make us less aware that it happened. It did not make us less empathetic for those who were injured or killed and their families. It did not make what happened less painful.
Sterling and Castile did not deserve to die violently. The loved ones they left behind have just begun the long journey of trying to cope with their loss and heal. Honor their legacies by sharing images of the lives they led and not the brutal manner in which they were killed. Let their slayings be more than the cause of your restlessness and fear.