Commentary: Black Death

by Hodan Hassan

In the last couple of months, we’ve seen two black people murdered, both events recorded and widely distributed in traditional and social media. Alton Sterling was a black man living in Baton Rouge who was killed by the police on Tuesday July 5th. He was selling CD’s outside of a store when the altercation happened, he was handcuffed and on the ground when he was murdered.

The police in Falcon Heights, MN killed Philando Castile on Wednesday July 6th. He was pulled over by the police for an alleged traffic violation and disclosed he had weapon. He was reaching for his driver’s license when the officer opened fire on him. His death was broadcast on Facebook Live™ by his girlfriend, who was a passenger in the car.

Just like many other black people killed by the police, when you type these men’s names into Google’s search engine the first things that come up are the videos of their deaths; nothing about their lives, who they were, who they loved, and all the things they’ve accomplished. All you see of them is their executions, their bodies laying on the side of road like nobody ever loved them. This constant consumption of black death on the internet and TV needs to stop. We saw Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, and so many others die on camera, the videos circulating on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr for weeks afterward.

Ritualized black death is woven into the fabric of this nation, let’s not pretend it’s something new that came about because of video cameras. Police killing black people is as much a part of this country as hot dogs on the 4th of July; there’s nothing new or novel about it. What seems to be forgotten is that the lynching of black people was a sport for white people during much of US history. White families, from youngest to oldest, used to watch black death as sport, often pointing and laughing. They used to sit in parks eating and laughing while watching a black person being hanged from a tree and occasionally being burned alive. Some white people would even take a picture of the event and send it as a postcard, even as Christmas cards.

An alternative to playing videos and images of black death on loop for all the world to see, is conscious, intentional, and humane reporting. In an event when a black person dies at the hands of the police, report on it. Give the readers an accurate accounting of the events; do not simply print the press releases from the police without verifying their accuracy. Do not tweet out the mug shots or “hood” looking photos of the murdered victims. Do not write extensive articles on the victim’s criminal records. And do not circulate the video of the murder.

Stop taking our humanity away from us, stop leaving our bodies in the middle of a road for hours to be spectacle for onlookers. White people get to keep their humanity and dignity in life and especially in death. There are never pictures or videos of dead white people circulating social media. Mourning white families are afforded the decency of not seeing repeated images on TV of their loved ones as they die with the whole world watching.

This American sport of constantly consuming the death of black people has got to come to an end. This country needs to do better for black people and it can start with ending police violence against black people. When black people die, let it be in our old age, having lived a fulfilled and fabulous life in peace. Let it be in our homes surrounded by people who we love and who love us. Let it be in peace.

Featured image is a cc licensed image by Phil Roeder/Flickr

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