We should show images of the dead
OPINION: Refusing to show the victims of mass shootings shields us from the reality of the violence this country seems willing to live with.
Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.
Americans are treated like babies by our media. We’re a violent society where our children are shot in schools, our cops murder citizens with impunity and our military drops bombs on foreign countries. Are we OK with all of that? Clearly, we are, but how can we really know if we’re OK with that when we never see the impact of it? We never see the bodies, the blood or the injuries that AR-15s and drone strikes leave.
The story of the Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, N.Y., mass murders is being told through words and peaceful images of the dead smiling beatifically in photos. I appreciate the imperative to restore the dignity of the dead and to remember them at their best, but in doing that, we are protecting the rest of us from the reality of what happened to them. Those sweet photos of the dead at peace are part of numbing us to sleep, which allows this to keep happening. It shields us from the reality of the violence this country is awash in. Being kept from those images keeps us from the outrage that could force political action.
This week on MSNBC, former Attorney General Eric Holder said that when he visited Sandy Hook after the mass murder there, seeing the bodies hurt him to his soul. “If we could somehow convey the nature of this carnage from these AR-15s, these weapons of war, then we could move this nation,” he said.
If we showed people what bullet-ridden bodies looked like, it would be harder for them to shrug and say, “well, nothing can be done.” It would be so painful that they would be forced to act. We should not be able to hear these stories and turn away. We should not be protected from the pain of seeing limbs separated and faces destroyed if we are making a choice to live with mass murders all the time. If we’re going to be a society where mass murder is part of our world, we should have to see what that really looks like.
Horrific images have changed the world before. In the years before 1955, there were thousands of people who were lynched, but when Mamie Till courageously let a photographer take photos of her son Emmett’s destroyed body, Americans got to see an unfiltered vision of what was happening in this country. The image of Emmett’s disfigured head propelled the civil rights movement to a new level of intensity.
Similarly, the long, graphic closeup of George Floyd being murdered on video was very hard to watch—most of us don’t have the stomach to watch an execution. But millions of people saw that footage, and it inspired a galvanizing national event for the modern Black Lives Matter movement. When we see reality in all of its unvarnished ugliness, we can no longer ignore it. We have to stand up against it.
News media is working from an outdated playbook that says images of death are too much to show people, but what’s truly too much is living with mass murder all the time. If you think it would be too traumatizing, that’s the point—it should be traumatizing. But if your point is, “what about my comfort?” in a world that’s awash with mass murder and a political system that’s doing nothing about it, you may be part of the problem.
Touré hosts the podcast “Touré Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is also the author of seven books.
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